Book Review: The Return by Rachel Harrison
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Series: Stand Alone
Length: 304 pages
To be honest, when I first started The Return, I had my doubts the story was going to be as creepy as its blurb touted. The tone of the intro was just bizarre, beginning by glossing over the disappearance of a woman, and then upon her return, treating the reactions of her three so-called best friends with just as much flippancy. When the four of them next traipsed off to a girls’ weekend at some goofy themed resort in the Catskills, I wondered if I’d mistakenly wandered into some chick lit comedy when I’d expected a horror.
Well, suffice to say, the lightness didn’t last long. As the story progressed, its tone grew increasingly darker and more disturbing…and by the end of it, I sure wasn’t laughing anymore.
When The Return opens, our protagonist Elise is the only one unconcerned when she hears that her friend Julie is missing. Even when her other two besties, Mae and Molly, are devastated and a funeral is held a year after the disappearance, Elise is convinced that Julie is still alive and will one day come back. Then one day, out of the blue, it actually happens. Julie shows up on her own porch, with no memory at all of the time she went missing. Her friends, however, are just happy that she’s returned.
In order to reconnect, Mae arranges for the four of them to spend a long weekend at a swanky new hotel that just opened in the mountains, called the Red Honey Inn. For the exorbitant cost, Elise is unimpressed by the gaudiness of its themed rooms and frigid halls, though she’s excited to be spending time with Mae and Molly again, and they’re all hoping Julie will open up about what happened. Their friend has been acting very strangely since her reappearance, like the fact she used to be a strict vegetarian but now she can’t seem get enough of meat—the rarer the better. She’s also not looking too well these days: skin dried, lips cracked, hair and teeth falling out—a far cry from the healthy, vibrant and beautiful woman that Elise remembers.
Not daring to push Julie too hard for the sake of their friendship, the other three all try to ignore her new eccentricities—and some of them are downright freaky—chalking them up to possible trauma. But as the weekend wears on amidst the growing tensions and the increasing dread, it’s clear they’re dealing with something much worse…and not at all natural.
I think the best way to describe The Return is to view it as a novel of two parts—the first half which covers Julie’s disappearance and reappearance, as well as the women’s arrival at the Red Honey Inn; and the second half, where everything starts going terribly, shockingly, and sickeningly wrong for all our characters. Needless to say, as a horror fan I was not so satisfied with all the dithering we had to put up with to get to the good parts, but I absolutely loved where this story eventually led us. Packed with thriller elements and a nice strong dose of body horror, I wouldn’t go into this unless you’ve got a strong stomach and a good tolerance for what I thought were some pretty twisted and flat-out gross scenes and ideas.
Interspersed with the main storyline is also a fair bit of drama—a lot of it related to the women’s friendships and their romantic lives, like jealousy, scandals, backstabbing…you name it, it’s all there. Admittedly, none of it really paints our protagonist or her companions in the best light, though I did enjoy how it added interest to the story and fleshed out the characters.
That said, I think the writing held this one back from being all that it could be. The Return being Rachel Harrison’s debut, I expected a few hiccups, and there were definitely moments where her prose struck me as trying too hard. A story’s mood and atmosphere can’t really be forced, and a few of the book’s more awkward moments or Elise’s overwrought monologuing gave proof to some of that. Still, where it counts, the author delivered. The horror sequences were all very well done and fantastically described, so if what you want is a chilling read, this book will certainly not disappoint you.
All in all, this horror fan found plenty to like about The Return. Considering how I started the book feeling quite skeptical, I was surprised how much I enjoyed it in the end. While not perfect, it’s nonetheless a solid debut that has me excited to read what Rachel Harrison will write next.