Book vs. TV: THE RETURNED Conundrum

17182421What if your dead loved ones returned to your life? Such is the premise of Jason Mott’s The Returned, inspired by a dream he had of his mother. Throughout the world, people—or whatever they are—reappear, causing global strife. Where they return and which dead ones return appears random, and leaves even more questions for the newly created International Bureau of the Returned.

The story opens itself up to all aspects of supernatural/sci-fi storytelling. Undead people, mysterious circumstances—Stephen King could knock out a 1,000-page book about it, easily. But Mott’s novel does not concern itself so much with uncovering the facts of these bizarre aspects and, instead, focuses on how it affects the small town of Arcadia and the quiet lives of the people therein.

The novel’s main perspective jumps between the aging Hargraves. Harold and Lucille lost their son Jacob about 50 years ago, and when he appears on their doorstep—thanks to Bureau Agent Bellamy—neither of them knows what to make of it. As the Returned’s presence sparks strife throughout the world, the Hargraves try to reconcile what Jacob’s return means to them. But circumstances grow increasingly dangerous as Arcadia reacts to being invaded by both the Returned and the government.

If this story sounds familiar, then you may have been one of the few viewers of ABC’s recent drama Resurrection. That show was adapted from Mott’s novel, expanding his world of characters to better suit a TV series. And, in fact, the series improves upon Mott’s novel (perhaps thanks to his consultation on the show?), with characters actively seeking answers to the riddles of the Returned.

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While the show (at least for now) lacks some of the global expansiveness of the novel, it is far easier to get drawn into its world. Mott’s writing has a slow, contemplative pace that is punctuated far too frequently with Southern colloquialisms. You practically hear a Southern drawl as you read his words. The series matches the contemplative, slow boil storytelling but foregoes most of that treacly Southern charm which grates the reader in the novel.

The Returned and Resurrection address thoughtful issues of religion and human rights and do so in a tactful, grounded way. But Mott’s novel never seems to quite get to where it needs to be, distractingly lacking a certain verve (my mind strayed far too often when reading it). But Resurrection excels at improving upon its source material and creating an urgency in its storytelling. Blessedly, it’s been renewed for a second season, which gives you about a year to breeze through the series’ first eight episodes.

 

Sidebar: How Enraptured Are We with the Rapture?

TheReturned_CompleteIf the title The Returned sounds familiar, perhaps you’ve been too busy watching the French series The Returned (aka Les Revenants), which also deals with dead people returning to their homes. The series’ existence necessitated the title change for the TV series adapted from Mott’s novel, even though the title The Returned was perfect for it. And, in case that isn’t enough, A&E is adapting the French Returned (which has aired in the US on the Sundance channel) into an American series, also titled The Returned—in a frightening trend of adapting perfectly delightful international series into American ones (even if all that’s changed is the name of the city and everyone’s accents—I’m looking at you Broadchurch/Gracepoint).

left-behind-bookBut all this Returned business is punctuated by the increase in the opposite premise occurring as well. The Leftovers, one of HBO’s summer shows (based on Tom Perrotta’s novel), focuses on the lives of those left behind after a significant (and random) chunk of the population up and disappears. While that lacks the religiosity of the Rapture, Nicolas Cage is starring in a mainstream reboot of the highly Christian (and highly addictive) Left Behind novels.

Someone seems to think audiences are currently captivated by the Afterlife—in one way or another—but how much of this can we really handle before it becomes passé? (And whom do you despise more: Nicolas Cage or Kirk Cameron, who originated the role that Cage is taking on?)

NIGHT FILM Is a Sovereign. Deadly. Perfect. Read.

Pessl_Night-FilmMarisha Pessl’s buzzed about second novel Night Film is a fantastic read for both literary lovers and film fanatics. Stanislas Cordova is a revered horror filmmaker, capturing the bleakest aspects of the human experience. When his daughter Ashley seemingly commits suicide, investigative reporter Scott McGrath is eager to prove that it was actually related to the sinister Cordova (who had disgraced him in the press previously). So begins a complex hunt into the dark world of Cordova’s night films and his family history.
Pessl incorporates mixed media articles into the pages (although not as extensively as J.J. Abrams does in S.), allowing you to really feel like your investigating this death along with McGrath. It also gives a striking verisimilitude to the story, which is further enhanced by the complex and exact descriptions of Cordova’s films that are interspersed throughout the novel. (How long until some of these night films are actually made?)
Suspense is the name of the game in Night Film, and the book nearly oozes it. By the time you reach McGrath’s stunning climactic mission into discovering Cordova’s secrets, you’ll be so engrossed in the story that you will have to read it with all the lights on (lest you be frightened by the shadows in your own room). And just when you think Pessl has lost all grasp of reality, she pulls out a few more twists to keep you questioning the story until the very end.
Night Film will keep you up into the early morning hours and then haunt your dreams whenever you finally put it down to sleep.

TWO BOYS KISSING Accurately Portrays Gay Teens Today

17456790David Levithan is currently one of the greatest YA authors today. Constantly pushing inventive writing and unique storytelling devices, all aimed at capturing the attention of teenagers and inspiring a new generation of readers and writers. What’s more, he does a powerful job of portraying LGBT characters in these novels as well. And now, 10 years after his breakthrough novel Boy Meets Boy, Levithan captures gay culture in 2013 in Two Boys Kissing.

Told from the perspective of the Gays of the Past, who speak in “we” pronoun form, we follow a weekend in the lives of various gay teenagers as two ex-boyfriends/best friends try to break the record for the world’s longest kiss. Levithan gives us a glimpse at nearly every type of teen in love from the newly infatuated couple to the depressed, suicidal loner. It’s a mosaic of characters who accurately portray what it is like to be a gay teen in America today.

Two Boys Kissing (inspired by a Walt Whitman poem) feels too contrived in the beginning: the “we” voice is convoluted and some of the more poignant storylines feel emotionally manipulative. But once you become fully immersed in the novel you’ll be unable to stop reading. You soon forgive the novel its contrivances for its overall message, a hopeful and inspiring one for gay teens. And you’ll be reminded just how wonderful Levithan’s writing truly is.