The Returned by Jason Mott

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“People and events of wonder and magic are the lifeblood of the world.”

Just about 300 pages into this beautifully written but ultimately disappointing novel, a mere 140 pages from the end, I decided to cut my losses (three weeks of reading time) and move on to other things.

I ached to love this book. It’s been sitting on my TBR for years and the premise sounds fantastic: all over the world the dead are returning to the living world, just the same as when they died, but touched by a certain oddness the “true living” can sense a mile away. The story centres on Arcadia, a small town nestled in the American Southern Bible Belt and mainly on an elderly couple, Harold and Lucille whose 8-year-old son, Jacob, returns to their lives 50 years after drowning. There are plenty of other interesting characters included in the plot: a priest longing to make contact with his 15-year-old high school sweetheart, no longer dead; a family who was brutally murdered several years before and whose return causes tension within the community; a still grieving husband whose sorrow turns to dangerous envy when he is unable to find his wife among the Returned. With the town mystified, new laws dictating that the Returned may not leave their homes and subsequent offenders arrested and placed in a prison camp of sorts, I was gearing up for a thrilling experience.

But while the characters grappled with their loved ones coming back from the dead, I grappled with finding meaning in the story. I just couldn’t relate. The plot moves at a painful crawl and at the time of my decision to abandon the book completely, I had spent plenty of pages patiently waiting for something worthwhile to happen. I found myself longing to connect with the people of that small town – both living and Returned – but the characters felt hollow and ultimately I simply didn’t care for them enough to continue. A quick Google search (I had several unanswered questions) told me everything I needed to know about how events finally play out, and I am quite happy that I left off where I did.

Nevertheless, I will be keeping an eye out for Jason Mott in the future. Although this debut did not appeal to me, I found his writing to be striking. His career as a poet certainly shines through in how he turns a phrase.

Not quite recommended, but worth a peek.

I have since discovered a Netflix series by the same name and somewhat similar plot and am now getting ready to plop down on the sofa, overindulge in snacks, and watch the heck out of it. Seems the returned dead is not quite done with me just yet.
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The DNFs – Thoughts on the books I’ve abandoned this year

Like all bookworms, I imagine, I love writing and talking about the books I’ve adored much more so than the ones I dislike, but I recently came across this nifty little infographic over at Creator & Curator on why readers have chosen to quit a certain book, and it got me thinking about the books I’ve abandoned, myself, this past year. When I started this blog, it was with the intention for it to serve as a kick under my bookish tush to actually crack open the novels I’ve been piling up for (sometimes) years, and try to break that very addictive habit of attempting to clear out every bookshop I visit. I’ve been good, more or less, and I’ve read plenty of excellent titles this past year – all from my own dusty shelves, with the exception of one or two ever-too-tempting proof copies that came across my desk now and again. But there were also a few books I simply could not get through, and did not finish. This post is all about the DNFs.

9781922070425Norwegian by Night – Derek B. Miller
I am so disappointed in myself for not enjoying what I did read of this book. I was hoping for a chilling Scandi edge and I loved the idea behind it: the 82-year-old Sheldon Horowitz, a character of the 100-Year-Old-Man variety (a book I adored, by the way), witnesses a murder in his apartment building, rescues the victim’s little boy and makes a run for it. I very much wanted to like this book, but after a few chapters I just grew bored. I’m keeping it around, though, I might well be in the mood to give it another go later on.

718a1616e938cb8003a6a5353ca174bfMy Favourite Manson Girl – Alison Umminger
I thought I would enjoy this because I loved Emma Cline’s The Girls, I really wanted to try out a new YA novel and for a while there I was a very morbid sucker for all things Manson related – I allow my mind its dark indulgences, perhaps a bit too often. So, the story of a snarky 15-year-old who runs away from home to join her not-nearly-famous-but-trying sister in sinful LA, only to find herself roped into a rather morose Manson Family research project, sounded like a perfect match. Only it wasn’t… And while I revelled in the acid-tongued narrative during the first few chapters, it became more whiny than sharp quite quickly and I didn’t quite care to find out how it ends.

51ll9y69sulZoo Time – Howard Jacobson
I honestly think this book was just much too literary for my tastes and I fully intend that as an odd sort of compliment. As I have been working in the book industry for a few years now, I thought I could relate to a novel that’s largely about attempts at publishing, a failing novelist’s writerly struggles, and the near constant reminder that reading may well be dead. And I really rather liked the acerbic and often rude narrator, author Guy Ableman. But, like the fictional readers of his fictional books, I sadly couldn’t really get into Guy’s narrative on lust and writing. I think its intention was just way over my head and I know I’m most likely missing out on a little nugget of bookish wit by DNF-ing this.

niccoloammaniti-imnotscared5I’m Not Scared – Niccolò Ammaniti
I bought this book ages ago on a vacation in sunny Cape Town and when I finally did read it, I was not scared at all. During an Italian heat wave, 9-year-old Michele discovers something frightening in an abandoned farmhouse. It is a secret thing, one he doesn’t dare talk about and he soon realizes that what he found hits closer to home than he could ever have imagined. I think the combination of anticipating reading this book and genuine curiosity to know more as the story unfolded kept me hooked initially, but midway through, the story seemed to be heading in the general direction of Nowhere. I lost all interest, and flipped to the final pages just to satisfy that gnawing need to know. Really not as interesting a read as I thought it would be.

18900315Valley of Amazement – Amy Tan
At the time I very much wanted to read Memoirs of a Geisha, but sadly couldn’t find a copy, so I bought this instead. The premise seems intriguing – it follows the life and loves of Violet, daughter to a Shanghai madam and later a celebrated courtesan herself – and it’s a tragic tale. I just found it a bit too repetitive and it quickly became too sentimental for my tastes, I was constantly wondering when this poor girl will ever find a bit of happiness (and that’s coming from a reader who appreciates doom and gloom when it’s done well) and I sympathetically continued reading this way past the point at which I initially wanted to abandon it.

coverHomegoing – Yaa Gyasi
Now this book I looked forward to for months before its release, and I was ecstatic when a copy finally made its way onto my desk. I’ve read plenty of wonderful reviews on it and I dove into the first chapter without hesitation. And it started off brilliantly, but then lost my interest… The book reminded me of The Twelve Tribes of Hattie in its style – each chapter is dedicated to a specific character and a small part of their life and it spans generations. But I felt as if what was told read like a preface to something bigger, more interesting. I didn’t feel drawn in by the writing and after a few chapters I no longer felt compelled to continue the story. That being said, I might just give this another try in the future, as I do feel like the odd one out for not liking it.