Book: “The Return” by Rachel Harrison
Publishing Info: Berkley, March 2020
Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from the publisher through NetGalley.
Book Description: A group of friends reunite after one of them has returned from a mysterious two-year disappearance in this edgy and haunting debut.
Julie is missing, and the missing don’t often return. But Elise knows Julie better than anyone, and she feels in her bones that her best friend is out there, and that one day she’ll come back. She’s right. Two years to the day that Julie went missing, she reappears with no memory of where she’s been or what happened to her.
Along with Molly and Mae, their two close friends from college, the women decide to reunite at a remote inn. But the second Elise sees Julie, she knows something is wrong—she’s emaciated, with sallow skin and odd appetites. And as the weekend unfurls, it becomes impossible to deny that the Julie who vanished two years ago is not the same Julie who came back. But then who—or what—is she?
Review: Thank you very much to Berkley and NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel!
I cannot tell you how excited I was when Berkley emailed me a link to the eARC of “The Return” by Rachel Harrison. I had been waiting and searching NetGalley to see if a request for this book would go up, eager to read a book that was being called a mash up of “The Shining” and “Girls”.
In my mind this meant super disturbing horror AND soapy catty girl fights (though a serious lack of Adam Driver, the only redeeming feature of that dreadful show in my mind). It took a fair amount of willpower to save it for a later date, and honestly I dove in a lot earlier than I normally do with eARCs that I get. I clearly had high hopes. And they were met. And HOW.
From the get go “The Return” sucks you in and lets you know the kind of story and people you’re going to be dealing with. Julie has disappeared, and her best friend Elise doesn’t want to believe that this is anything more than a histrionic call for attention. Julie has a history of this, after all, so when mutual friends Molly and Mae are concerned Elise refuses to be. Until Julie doesn’t come back and is declared dead, with a funeral and everything. So when she returns two years later claiming no memory, the reader knows that something is amiss, both in Julie’s story AND the relationship she has with her best friend. Therefore, isolating the four friends in a strange hotel and letting them slowly realize that Julie isn’t ‘the same’ is the perfect slow burn horror that especially resonates with anyone who has had a friendship that has potentially run its course. The horror elements are on point, from the descriptions of Julie’s emaciated look to the quirks and strange changes at the hotel that may or may not be Elise’s imagination to the imagery of dark beings in the corners of vision. There were numerous moments where I found myself incredibly unsettled, or had to set the book down for a bit and regroup. There is one especially suspenseful scene near the end the effectively lets the scene build up from everything being okay, to minor unease, to outright terror, so the reader experiences everything that the character is going through within the moment as you read it. I loved it, even if it deeply upset me and really put me off going exploring in our nation’s national parks by myself… And some of the descriptions of Julie’s physical transformation were absolutely disgusting, really amping the body horror aspect up to sit alongside the Gothic themes of an isolated location, as bad weather rolls in and people start disappearing…
But the other theme that struck me about this book is how well it captures the last dying gasps of a friendship on the skids. Elise, Julie, Molly, and Mae were all close back in the day, but now have drifted apart geographically and emotionally. With the four of them scattered across the country, some of them settling down, others making poor romantic choices, and others are stagnating and refusing the see it. Seeing the four of them try to force a reunion in the wake of Julie’s remarkable reappearance is something you could see in a tawdry drama, and the story would work even if you pulled the horror elements out. You especially see the tumultuous friendship between Elise and Julie, told through references to the past and seen in interactions in the present, as Julie has come back very much not herself. But then, I couldn’t help but think that it’s all a very well done metaphor for when you don’t know a person anymore, even without the strange body horror aspects, or the rotting teeth, or the fact that bodies may be piling up. Elise and Julie are codependent on each other’s friendship, no matter how damaging it could be for both of them.
“The Return” blends an effective Gothic and body horror tale with the deterioration of a long standing friendship. It’s a horror story that was worth the wait and the anticipation, and one that may be more relatable than you would think.
Rating 9: A sudsy and creepy horror story that not only brings the scares, but examines tough realities about friendships that start to fade away.
“The Return” is included on the Goodreads list “2020 Horror to Scream For”.
Find “The Return” at your library using WorldCat!