THE RETURN

PUBLISHER’S BLURB – excerpt

An edgy and haunting debut novel about a group of friends who reunite after one of them has returned from a mysterious two-year disappearance. Julie is missing, and the missing don’t often return.

Everyone has seen a gaggle of girlfriends. A clique formed at an early age traveling through life attached to one another like an extra appendage. The Return features four girlfriends, now in their late twenties and separated by geography but never by bond: Julie, Elise, Molly and Mae. This  foursome has always been bifurcated by personality. Julie and Elise; Molly and Mae.

Julie gets the harebrained idea to go backpacking, alone and inexperienced, in the Acadia National Park and soon learns she’s bit off more than she can chew. She becomes lost and after a futile search by rescue teams is declared dead a year later. Her memorial service brings the three remaining members of the clique together. Elise can’t bring herself to believe Julie is dead. Julie has always pulled a disappearing act only to reappear when she feels like it. Molly and Mae mourn Julie’s death while Elise holds out hope she will see Julie again.

Two years to the day she disappeared, Julie is found sitting on her front porch. She is wearing the clothes she disappeared in and claiming to have no memory of the events of the past two years. Mae, the wealthiest of the group, arranges a get-away to a remote and bizarrely designed hotel to welcome Julie back into the fold and reunite the clique.

The trio gathers in the hotel awaiting Julie’s arrival and speculate if she has changed over the past two years. Suddenly there is a loud knock on the door. The beautiful Julie is now standing before them emaciated. Her skin hangs slack and waxy. Her teeth, once perfect, are now chipped and discolored. Her once beautiful green eyes appear jaundiced. Her lush curly hair is now thin, stringy and greasy. When she speaks, her breath smells like roadkill. The four girls head down to the hotel restaurant acting as if she hasn’t changed. It’s just a little lost memory, they say. Julie smiles and acts as though she doesn’t see the side glances and the behind-her-back murmurs. Even when the life-long advocate for a vegetarian lifestyle, stuns the others when she order a rare steak and eats with her hands, they say nothing.

The next morning, the old Julie with the bouncy curls and fashion model skin arrives for breakfast. And still no one asks what is going on with her. And she offers no explanation. The days pass. The atmosphere in the hotel is changing. The staff acts spooked. There are sounds in the walls. The thermostat in Elise’s room seems possessed always resetting itself to freezing. Some days Julie appears bedraggled. Oher days she seems infused with instant health. Still no one mentions it.

And quoting Forrest Gump. That’s all I got to say about that.

What I liked:

  • A debut author with a novel approach to an age-old theme of spooky hotels and strange happenings.
  • The behind the scenes descriptions of the hotel evoked intense sensations. I had a physical reaction, my stomach turned over, as we entered each hotel room and learned of its decor.
  • Julie’s physical changes were striking without being overly graphic.
  • The characters were genuine. I hated them. Can’t think of a time I could stand a bunch of loud, hard-drinking, entitled girls acting like the world owned them a favor while at the same time being needy, in-secure and desperate for friendship.
  • Although the first half of the book was so boring with repetitive groveling dialogue, I did find myself very engaged as the tension rose. The author has great promise and I would be interested in her next book.

What I didn’t like:

  • All the baggage each girl was carrying around inside and hearing about it over and over and over. There never was any growth in their characters. They were stuck in a time warp of their youth.
  • The second half of the story was super-charged and just as you expected a super nova ending, it ended like a slow leaky tire leaving the reader wondering -what just happened?

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