‘The Returned’ imagines a new kind of world

Author Jason Mott will appear in Brooklyn on Sept. 25. Photo by Randy Skidmore
Author Jason Mott will appear in Brooklyn on Sept. 25. Photo by Randy Skidmore

In his debut novel “The Returned (Harlequin MIRA; September 2013), Jason Mott tells the eerie story of a world in which the departed come back to coexist with the living. Raising questions of whether such a world would erupt in chaos or thrive on happiness, “The Returned” is a chilling novel that already has garnered much attention; advance reviews sing high praise and ABC Studios/Brad Pitt’s Plan B Entertainment and Brillstein Entertainment Partners have adapted Mott’s novel for the television drama series Resurrection.

According to Brooklyn Eagle, Mott will appear in Brooklyn to discuss his work on Sept. 25 at the Brooklyn Public Library. “The Returned” traces the story of Harold and Lucille Hargrave, whose world is turned upside down when Jacob, their son who had died tragically on his eighth birthday, is reintroduced into their lives. Nearly fifty years after Jacob drowned, an agent from the International Bureau of the Returned arrives at the Hargraves’ home with young Jacob. Jacob is exactly as he was when he passed, but after years of grieving and aging, his parents are no longer the young couple who tragically lost their child.

Still, Lucille embraces Jacob with open arms, as if she had never lost him. Harold, on the other hand, is more skeptical. Decades earlier he had found Jacob’s body in the river, and now wonders whether this boy could truly be his own son.

It turns out that Jacob is among the many who have returned from the dead to mystify their loved ones who had mourned a heartbreaking loss. Some, like Lucille, are purely elated, while others are overcome with doubt and fear. Eventually, as public sentiment grows increasingly cynical, the Returned are gathered and detained in prisonlike camps.  As their population continues to grow, these camps become overcrowded and soon are scorned by the living.

Calling into question the very definition of humanity, “The Returned” is at once an unsettling and moving work of debut fiction. In anticipation of Mott’s upcoming Brooklyn appearance, Brooklyn Eagle checked in with the author. He tells us about the dream that inspired his novel and offers a preview of what he’s working on now.


How did the idea for this story originate?

This novel began in the summer of 2010. Both of my parents have passed away, and in the summer of 2010 I had a dream that I came home from work and found my mother sitting at the kitchen table, waiting for me. For the rest of the dream she and I just sat together and talked about all the things that had happened in my life since her death—college, new friends I’ve made, my focus on becoming a writer. She even teased me a little on not being married yet. It was one of the most warm, comforting dreams I’ve ever had.

I woke from that dream certain that it had been a real experience. I genuinely expected to find her in the living room. In the days that followed, I couldn’t get the dream out of my head. And, one day, I was having lunch with a friend and I told him about it. At some point he said “What if that really happened? And what if it wasn’t just her?”

And that was where “The Returned” began.


Did you have any literary influences for this type of haunting, mystical story?

Yes.  Quite a few, actually.  My main influences are always John Gardner and William Golding.  They’re both writers of wonderful talent and imagination, and I’m always going back to their works whenever I need to recharge my writing batteries.  Other touchstone writers for me are Cormac McCarthy and Neil Gaiman.


Before publishing this novel, you published two collections of poetry. How did writing a novel compare to writing poems? Do you find one or the other more challenging or rewarding?

My writing background actually began with fiction.  I discovered poetry much later.  So, for me, working on a novel is simply returning to the place where I first started.  And, for me, poetry and fiction aren’t as far apart as many people feel they are.  I grew up adoring epic poetry tales such as Beowulf and The Odyssey.  So when I finally began working with poetry, it became very narrative driven—a type of modern epic poetry form.  And when I work with fiction, the tools learned from poetry—specificity of language, conciseness—become very, very helpful.


How involved are you – if at all – in the TV adaptation of the story?

Thankfully, I don’t do any heavy lifting.  Early on I was involved in a lot of the discussion on where the series might go.  We talked about character backgrounds and possible storylines.  But then I had another manuscript to work on and, quite frankly, the people working on the television series are better at making good TV than I am, so I try to stay out of their way.  I’ve seen the pilot and stay in communication with people from the show, but it’s theirs now, and I’m completely confident in their ability to make it something spectacular that readers of the novel will enjoy watching.

What are you working on now?

Right now my editor and I are revising my next manuscript.  It’s another novel centered around a unique event that occurs in a small town.  But I don’t really want to say much more than that just now.  I’m also toying around with a screenplay.  I’m a huge cinephile, and I’d love to contribute to film in some way.  But we’ll see how that goes.

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The Sept. 25 event will begin at 7 p.m. at the Brooklyn Public Library’s Dweck Center (10 Grand Army Plaza).

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Jason Mott holds a B.A. in fiction and an M.F.A. in poetry, both from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, and is the author of two poetry collections. His writing has appeared in numerous literary journals, and he was nominated for the 2009 Pushcart Prize. Jason lives in North Carolina. “The Returned” is his first novel.

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