What would you do if you had the opportunity to speak to a loved one who’s passed? If they showed up in the flesh unannounced, would you accept the phenomenon as a miracle, or be distrustful from the start?
Jason Mott’s idea for The Returned emerged after Mott had a dream about his mom, who died in 2001. In the dream, “I came home from work and found her at the kitchen table waiting for me,” Mott remembers. “We just talked about all the things that had happened in the years since she passed away.”
The dream stayed with him for weeks, and he eventually shared the story with a friend. “Wouldn’t it be amazing if that really happened? And what if it wasn’t just her?” the friend suggested. From there, Mott expanded on this idea of people long gone returning at random and re-entering the lives of those they left behind.
But how do you get readers to commit to an idea like this, which requires a wholehearted suspension of disbelief? You can’t “insult [the reader’s] intelligence by concocting some weird, strange, impossible scenario of explanation,” Mott says. He tried multiple ways of explaining, but none felt right.
Thinking again of his mother, and what his reaction would be to another chance at seeing her, Mott came to realize that the explanation really wasn’t important: “The question of how would be so far removed from my mindset; I would just try to be in the moment.”
The Returned delves into the complex landscape of human emotion from a unique perspective; the moments of raw reaction captured on the page are magical, as characters experience everything from surprise, wonder, anger and disbelief at the phenomenon happening around them. In facing the unnatural, the people of small-town Arcadia are forced to form opinions on life and death and what it means to be human.
Mott’s characters are also provided the rare opportunity to come to terms with their pasts—to look their ghosts in the face—and forgive themselves. Writing this story was cathartic for Mott, who realized that there were things about his mother’s death that he hadn’t previously dealt with. “Ultimately, the time you have with people is really all that matters,” he says. He hopes that readers come away with a similar feeling.
For those who want the chance to experience the Returned walking among us, you won't have to wait long. The novel’s TV adaptation, titled Resurrection, is scheduled to premiere in March 2014 on ABC.
Chelsea Langford is the editorial assistant at Kirkus Reviews.