The Return by Rachel Harrison (2020) Review

What can a friendship survive?

warning: The last part of my review contains spoilers. The first two parts are spoiler free.

Why I picked up the book:

Elise, Julie, Mae and Molly are long time friends. Their friendship has survived some life changes, but when Julie goes missing, their dynamic is deeply affected. Elise refused to let it go and is convinced Julie will return. Mae and Molly are ready to accept her death and move on. But then, two years later, Julie returns with no memory of what happened to her or where she has been.

The book through my criteria lens:

I enjoyed reading the book in the sense that I couldn’t put it down. However, it was slightly triggering to me as it evoked deep feelings. I guess what I am trying to say is that I enjoyed the book, but it wasn’t a light read.

I loved all characters, especially Julie and Elise. I feel that we got to know the four friends pretty well, but I wish some of the secondary characters had been more fleshed out. Especially one particular character connected to what happened to Julie during the two years she was away.

I loved the atmosphere: it was claustrophobic, anxious, dark. The hotel felt like a place I would never want to visit, and the character’s frustrations and fear contributed enormously to the book’s overall mood. Harrison also played fair in the book; it felt like the characters stayed true to themselves as the book evolved and choices/actions happened.

I was so intrigued by the story. It was unique, original, and I loved how open-ended it was – I was making theories even before reading the first page! I felt that Rachel delivered an almost perfect execution; I just wished the mythos had been more elaborated.

My personal feelings:

I think there are many ways that you can read The Return. You go along for the entertaining horror ride; you can read it to figure out what happened to Julie and what/who she has become since coming back.

I am in no way saying Harrison intended to evoke grief with this book – but that is the place from what I read this book and the reason why I was so emotionally touched, distressed, and connected to this book.

The rest of my review will be through that lens (and again, how I interpreted the book. I apologize if that’s not what Harrison intended).

The following paragraphs contain spoilers, click on arrow to view
    For the first half of the book, I wondered if Julie was actually a vampire, but as she started deteriorating, my reading experience shift. First off, I am Elise. I have lost two significant people in my life, and I have a hard time letting go. I still talk to them in my life, and sometimes I get angry that people have moved on. Much like Julie would feel a presence around her and feel cold, metaphorically, that’s how I feel when I catch myself wanting to share some milestones with my dad and grandfather. And it hurts when I can’t. I thought that the slow deterioration of Elise was a touching metaphor to how we continue to lose someone even after their death: their voice, their expressions, even some memories get romanticized.
    I saw the hotel as the symbolic place where Elise, Mae, and Molly visited to grieve and find a coping strategy to survive. A death/ loss changes you.
    From an entertaining point of view, I wish Harrison had elaborated more on that the mythology surrounding the wood creature and what Julie became as I love getting to know about new creatures and learning new creatures “bios and origin stories.” With that said, to relate to Elise, one doesn’t have to go there. As I read her, someone who died unexpectedly and unwillingly, I found her quite poetic. I could relate to her from a place of survival. I was diagnosed with breast cancer young, and the only reason I didn’t fall apart and fought hard was my son. Someone I loved and whom I was not ready to leave behind. I’m glad it turned out well for me, I am damn grateful, actually, but I could relate to Elise’s feelings of not finding peace because she felt compelled to come back to Elise. I can also empathize with Julie’s fear of being seen by her friends at first. Death changed her, and it’s always an act of courage to let someone see who you have become, knowing you can never go back to being who they used to know. The fear of not being accepted by the person you came back for is so deep, so visceral; it can be crippling.

For those reasons, I loved The Return. It is so beautiful, so poetic, so deep – in the creepiest possible. I will be picking up all the books Harrison writes, and I can’t wait for her newest novel, “Cackle” coming up on October 5th. (though I am bitter, I have to wait that long! I wish I could read it earlier!! Bahaha)

Enjoyability     9

Characters       9

Ambience        10

Fairness          10

Plot                  10

Execution        9

My total rating: 4.75


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