This is not a book for the casual reader or for someone who thinks James Patterson is a member of the literary elite. I found my way to “The Returned” after reading a review. I had just finished another summer selection “Sisterland,” which although well written was full of annoying characters that kept repeating themselves. I was thirsty for something a bit more magical, as I’ve always been easily pulled in by a great story with a supernatural current.
For a good part of the book, I was preoccupied with trying to determine the why and how of the dead returning. The dead in this book aren’t zombies or whatever came back after being buried in the Pet Cemetery. They were the same as the time of their deaths. They had memories and feelings and needs. The action shifts from the emotion of the families being reunited with the dead. Some people embracing them. Others believing they are evil. Then the camps begin springing up and the returned are imprisoned. At the core of the story is the return of Jacob, an eight year old, who drowned on his birthday 50 years before. His parents are now old and have spent the last 50 years surviving from day to day. The return of Jacob brings them both peace and torment. But it gives them time. Time they had both been wishing for since his death.
It wasn’t until the last part of the book as things descend into chaos that my feeling about the book changed. It wasn’t a book about the supernatural at all. It was about that hope that so many of us have in our heart, regardless of how much time passes. It’s that hope for one more moment with someone gone. Just to have an hour, a day, anything to say whatever needed to be said, ask those things that only they can answer, hear their voice, feel their embrace. This book so eloquently defines that aching anyone has ever lost someone they truly loved; an aching that never really subsides.
In the end, I don’t really know if it matters how or why the returned came back. Because I know if I woke up tomorrow to find my mom in my kitchen, my thoughts wouldn’t linger on the logistics or the science. I would just want to soak in her laugh and be glad to let her hold me as if I was a child. I would try hard to not look away not even blink so I could be reminded of everything I’ve ever forgotten in the last 16 years. I would let her calm and soothe every heartbreak since she’s been gone.
The power of words formed beautifully into stories have the ability to change your perspective or remind you of raw feelings still ever present. it’s not what I expected to be writing about on a Wednesday afternoon on an airplane. I was just caught up in a great story, hoping for a great twist or payoff in the end. What I got was a not so subtle reminder of what really matters in this life: to love and be loved, regardless of how much time we have.