The idea of life after death has taken a peculiar turn in popular culture. Zombies, or people who are dead but walking the earth in search of living flesh to devour because their brains continue to work, are all the rage these days.
Award-winning poet Jason Mott poses an interesting theory in his new book, “The Returned,” one in which those who have passed reappear on earth. We’re not talking science fiction here, but an intriguing tale that came to Mott contemplating the death of his mother, his memory of her and a dream where she asked him why he hadn’t married.
“That dream stayed with me for months,” he writes in the book’s “Author’s Note,” adding that he shared the experience with a friend. “Sometime later in our lunch, as conversation was running low, my friend asked, ‘Can you imagine if she actually did come back, just for one night? And what if it wasn’t just her? What if it happened to other people, too’?”
“The Returned” opens as Harold and Lucille Hargrave watch on TV the eerie returned of those who have passed. These people suddenly appear, looking like the day they passed away, some near their homes and some as far away as other countries. While Lucille Hargrave watches and comments that it’s all the devil’s work, a man arrives bringing the Hargrave’s only son, Jacob, who drowned on his eighth birthday in 1966.
As more and more people “return,” the government engages more control and chaos ensues. Some people embrace the return of loved ones while others refuse to accept them. In some instances, the returned only renew old pain, such as the appearance of an elderly woman who died of a stroke and returns in senility.
While we follow the unusual story of the Hargraves and their son, “The Returned” offers many issues to ponder. If we could renew relationships, would we do them differently? After grieving for years would we want to suddenly act like nothing happened? Or is the idea of meeting past loved ones a desire we all maintain?
“I wanted it (‘The Returned’) to be a place where — through methods and magic unknown even to me — the hard, uncaring rules of life and death do not exist and people can be with those they loved once more,” the author writes in the “Author’s Note.”
Kirkus Reviews magazine has named Mott’s “The Returned” as one of the Best Fiction Books of 2013. The annual list by the magazine also named to the list books by Louisiana authors George Bishop, who penned “The Night of the Comet,” and James Lee Burke, who continued his Dave Robicheaux series with “Light of the World.”
The magazine said this of Bishop’s book, “Coming-of-age novels examine youthful revelations about the world — filled with cynicism and wonder and rearranged expectations — and the quality hinges on the honesty of the voice, the truth of the observations, the handling of innocence lost; Bishop succeeds on all these fronts.” Of Burke’s, they wrote, “Pruning away the florid subplots that often clutter his heaven-storming blood baths, Burke produces his most sharply focused, and perhaps his most harrowing study of human evil, refracted through the conventions of the crime novel."
Pelican Publishing of New Orleans has recently released several new titles related to Louisiana.
Journalist, author and LSU fan Chet Hilburn has compiled his top favorite Death Valley experiences in “Legendary Tiger Stadium: The 30 Greatest LSU Football Games.” There’s the famous Halloween game against Ole Miss, the “earthquake game” against Auburn that registered on a seismograph and the win against Florida that resulted in a field of oranges as the fog rolled in. Not all of these games are winners, but Hilburn chose the most memorable, win or lose.
“Historic Baton Rouge Architecture” by Jim Fraiser, with photography by Pat Caldwell and Fraiser offers a lovely overview of the historic treasures of the Capital City. Areas include downtown, Spanish Town, Beauregard Town and the Garden District, among others, plus ventures out to Baker, Port Allen and other neighboring towns.
Kerri McCaffety gives us a miniature glimpse inside the French Quarter, with 30 color photographs and descriptive captions, inside a palm-sized book, in “Visions of the Vieux Carré.” It’s a nice gift idea, images of the Quarter in a small package.
André Cajun (Andrew Jackson Navard of Lake Charles) captured the scandalous past of New Orleans’s infamous Basin Street, along with illustrations by arists Zamb (Wiley S. Churchill) in “Basin Street.” Pelican offers a reprint of the 1950s book with a foreword providing historical context by Roger Hahn.
The small but costly battle at Milliken’s Bend in Madison Parish involved America’s first African American soldiers, who were mostly former slaves, was a key segment in Grant’s Vicksburg campaign and included accusations that Confederates executed prisoners, which contributed to the suspension of prisoner exchanges between North and South. This small yet important fight received some initial widespread attention but soon drifted into obscurity.
Linda Barnickel reviews this controversial battle in “Milliken’s Bend: A Civil War Battle in History and Memory,” published by LSU Press and winner of the 2013 Jules and Frances Landry Award for the “most outstanding achievement in the field of southern studies” among books published by LSU Press in the year.
Barnickel will be speaking about the battle and signing copies of her book at the Nashville Civil War Roundtable at 7 p.m. Jan. 20, 2014. For more information on her book and upcoming events, visit http://lsupress.org/books/detail/millikens-bend.
Cheré Coen is the author of “Haunted Lafayette, Louisiana” and “Exploring Cajun Country: A Historic Guide to Acadiana,” both from The History Press, and co-author of “Magic’s in the Bag: Creating Spellbinding Gris Gris Bags and Sachets.” She teaches writing at UL-Lafayette’s Continuing Education. Write her at email@example.com.