17 August 2013

Review: The Returned

The Returned
The Returned by Jason Mott

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Closer to a 4.5.
There's often a danger in science fiction where there will be a significantly solid concept that just flops in execution. This happens more in film and television than books (see how questionable Under the Dome has been on television, or the countless sci-fi flops on the big screen), but there are still plenty of books I've read, or tried to read, that seem to have a great idea that simply doesn't work over a novel length. Sometimes it's the prose, sometimes it's just that the idea is fully formed solely as an idea.

The Returned, in a sense, is the opposite of Tom Perotta's The Leftovers. Instead of a situation where there's a rapture and people randomly disappear, we encounter a world in which the dead, many of which have been gone for a long time, are coming back. Children, adults, all in different places, often nowhere near where they died.

A great concept, but the good news is that the execution is just as good.

The book works because it's a good story that's done in a literary-enough way without being too overbearing. It's accessible while still not abandoning its rots in the sort of science-fictiony landscape that it exists in. I compare it to The Leftovers because it feels a lot like that book in terms of how the plot is presented as well as how the characters and the world within the story reacts to what's happening. We have a few families we follow, and the "main" family, as they were, remain compelling as well as unpredictable, much like the world the they live in.

Mostly, though, I enjoyed the story because of its readability and its ability to give some background to various Returned people without overwhelming the story with too many characters or too much craziness. It's direct and it doesn't waste any time, and I have to respect that.

If I have a criticism, it's partially that the way the book ended felt more than a little out of step with the rest of the book, and that the promise of more character-based interaction at a pace similar to the prequel shorts that were released did not arrive in this book. The appetizers posted are great, and did more to get me excited for the book than any others of their type so far, but the book is different in tone and structure. In both cases, however, this is based more on my personal preferences than actual flaws in the text. It's a good read.

If you're not one for genre fiction, this won't turn you off. If you are one for genre fiction, you'll enjoy this story as a simple and strange tale that I hope gets a lot of great attention and a broad readership. Highly recommended.

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