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  • Mandy McHugh

The Return, Rachel Harrison: A Review


Between the beautiful hot pink color and the intriguing blurb, I couldn't wait to read The Return. I saw good things about it on Twitter in the weeks before its release, and, as I'm sure I've said a hundred times already, I'm a sucker for a book set in the capital district. This hotel could've very well been The Roxbury, a themed-room hotel in the Catskills a good friend of mine reserved for her bachelorette party a few years back. With its over-the-top decor and dedication to quirky colors, this hotel was the perfect backdrop for the story of Elise and her group of friends. Elise has been friends with Mae, Molly, and Julie for years. Through good times and bad, they have each other's backs, and while their personalities are either too similar or polar opposites, they love each other. When Julie goes missing, their worlds are turned upside down, but Elise secretly holds out hope. As days turn into weeks, which turns into two years, they hold a funeral and bury the memories of their friend. However, after two years, Julie reappears with no memory of her disappearance. Celebrating her return, the group decides to have a girls weekend to a remote hotel in the Catskills, a decision that soon haunts them. Julie is Julie, but nothing is the same. From her looks to her behavior, the girls become increasingly concerned, one question floating in the background that no one wants to ask: What happened to Julie? What works well is Harrison's depiction of body horror. From the physical differences, to the graphic descriptions, I was most interested in these moments. Julie's essential decay is visceral and disturbing. The imagery of her withering is beautifully disgusting, and I loved the horrific reveals. No explanation, pretending to be unbothered by the very real pain and horror, the pretending and willful denial of events unfolding was super relatable. We don't want to make people uncomfortable by pointing out eating habits or potentially embarrassing social guffaws, and because of this, the majority of the time in the hotel is spent putting on a happy front while the building bleeds around them. This, on its own, was way more than enough to stand to be the focus. I was a little confused as to the inclusion of the strange hotel happenings, and I wish the plot had spent more time unraveling the mystery of what actually happened rather than the bulk of the "maybe this hotel is haunted, maybe it's Julie" descriptions. In terms of characterization, I thought the four women were realistic and enjoyed their sarcastic banter. Indeed, I could see my friends and I making some of these jokes unprompted in our own discourse. While they did overlap a bit and dwell in the stereotypical category, the friendship aspect was pivotal to the book, and overall, I enjoyed their interactions. With notes of Jennifer's Body and a good haunted hotel story, The Return is a solid mix of gross-out and suspenseful. Not for the weak-stomached, add this to your TBR if you're a fan of quick-witted friendships with bloody consequences.


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