Review: Rachel Harrison’s The Return

I would like to start with a thank you to Netgalley and Berkley Publishing for providing me with an eARC of Rachel Harrison’s The Return in exchange for an honest review.

  • Title: The Return
  • Author: Rachel Harrison
  • Publisher: Berkley Publishing
  • Length: 304 Pages
  • Genre: Horror
  • Pub Date: March 24, 2020

Star Rating: 2/5

“I did what made me happy. I did something for myself. Before then, any decision I made was motivated by what I thought other people wanted or expected of me.”

–Rachel Harrison

Synopsis

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 no one believes she will ever return—except Elise. Elise knows Julie better than anyone, and feels it in her bones that her best friend is out there and that one day Julie will 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

During the last few months of 2019, I saw this book everywhere on bookstagram, and I mean EVERYWHERE! As soon as I saw the cover, I knew I had to get my hands on it. I LOVE the cover. Then I read the synopsis and I was sold! I requested The Return when I came across it on Netgalley, sent a request, and nearly fainted when I saw I was approved. I had personally hyped myself up so much with this book that I didn’t know what to do with myself. I just knew with the cover and synopsis, it was going to be an excellent read.

Unfortunately, I was wrong.

It just didn’t live up to my own personal hype and I hate that it didn’t. I truly do.

The beginning of The Return was so, so, sooooooo slow. It legit took me forever to get through the first 15% of the book. Also, the chapters are way, way, waaaaaay too long (I read an eBook, but I think the chapters are approximately 40-50 pages). I find that I can become better invested in the book and not so bored with shorter chapters. As August Birch states, “when you give your reader a well-written, cliffhanger of a scene, and you end the chapter leaving her wanting to know more, she’ll keep reading.” There are so many opportunities in The Return to break the chapters into smaller chunks.

These long chapters stem from the massive amount of information and backstory readers are given. Character information and backstory is fine and dandy if it contributes something to the overall arc of the story. Unfortunately, the backstories did absolutely nothing to drive the story. I don’t think I’ve ever skimmed a book like I did The Return. Rather than choosing to DNF (do not finish) the book, I skimmed over certain areas, approximately 45% of the book. I mean half of a chapter, or more, was dedicated to telling us about how the main character Elise broke into her ex-boyfriends house and snooped around.

A lot of the information was just repeating over and over, especially in regard to relationship between the women. Yes, Harrison did a great job of building the dynamics of a group of women, but that’s just it: she’s writing about a group of women, not best friends like the story claims. I’m sorry, but if a friend group is anything like Elise, Mae, Molly, and Julie’s little group, then it’s a HELLA unhealthy friendship. They don’t talk about past events that shaped them into the women they are, they don’t converse, they avoid and keep quiet. What kind of friends make it uncomfortable to talk about your past, your good or bad past?

Then there is Elise. I’ve seen mixed reviews on her character. Some really like her character and found her relatable while some can’t stand her. I am firmly on the side of can’t stand her. Elise isn’t the type of character you love to hate. No, for me, she is just the type of character you just don’t like. Rather than saying how she feels or being a friend and doing what’s right, she’s too concerned with being number one, being integral to the group, being liked. I understand we all have those thoughts of getting left out or being the one the group doesn’t like, but that shouldn’t be paired with jealously so strong that we can’t be happy for our friends, cheer them on, or try to downplay their troubles because our’s are worse. That is exactly what Elise does. Unfortunately, Elise is sort of a terrible person with no moral compass. In the end, all she does for most of the book is whine about her life, which she has the ability to change, and probably being the least liked in the group. The only relatable character is Molly. She’s opinionated, headstrong, and knows what she wants and wants to say. Ultimately, I would be finding new friends if I found myself in that friend group.

But, enough of the negative. I do want to point out some positives to the book. When Harrison focused on the actual storyline, the horror, she did a phenomenal job! The descriptions were dark, twisty, grotesque, very My Best Friend’s Exorcism. Also, some of the descriptions of the actual hotel are very The Shining and Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves meets prime instagram photoshoot spot. It isn’t scary to the point of “I’m going to have nightmares”, but you best believe I was reading the last chapter with a scrunched up face. The twist is unique but underdeveloped and kind of fell flat. I honestly think it is because of how the twist is presented. Rather than the twist being revealed in pieces so that when they come together we go “Holy Shit!”, it was given to us in a long story. I was so tired of the story that lead up to the twist that I was just like “Oh.”

Again, I hate to admit it, but this book didn’t live up the my own personal hype, and I wouldn’t be able to recommend it to other readers. There were just too many times I almost gave up on the book.

If you like to read about women dynamics and a woman working through her issues mixed with horror, this is your book. The ending, the actual place where Harrison concentrates on the horror was the shining light in The Return and the reason I gave it two stars instead of one. While it did have its moments, The Return was just plain boring and could be cut down to half its length.

However, with all that being said, I did curate a playlist that tells the story sonically! Take a listen.

Have you read Harrison’s The Return? What did you think? Let’s talk in the comments.

2 comments

  1. That’s such a shame! I hadn’t heard of this book, but I had seen a few posts about it going around. Initially, I thought it was going to be a great new debut horror novel to read but now I think I’ll avoid it.

    Like

    • I was so excited about it. With horror/thrillers/mysteries, I like when long tangents are necessary to understanding the entire twist. The working through the friendship dynamic didn’t mesh well with the horror parts. 😞

      Liked by 1 person

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