In the novel The Returning by Ann Tatlock, Andrea has loved her husband John since they were teenagers. She knew he did not love her and only married her because he had to after she became pregnant. But she hoped that his heart might change someday.
Now John has just been released from prison, where he spent the last five years after accidentally killing a man while driving drunk. Andrea is not sure how everything will work after the adjustments of the last few years.
Their youngest daughter, Phoebe, was just a baby when John left, so she doesn’t remember her father and is afraid of him. Teenage daughter Rebekah is angry and rebellious. Only their oldest son with Down Syndrome, Billy, seems genuinely happy to have John home.
John knows he has a lot to overcome. His brother-in-law gave him a low-paying job, but he needs to find something better. He needs to rebuild his relationships with his family. And he needs to tell them what happened to him in prison when he committed his life to Christ. His biggest need, though, he doesn’t even realize yet: he needs to get grounded in his faith and grow. When he succumbs to temptation again and again, he begins to wonder if Rebekah is right in her accusation that his faith was just “jailhouse religion.”
A friend went through this scenario with a husband returning home after several years in prison, though the details were different. Even with all parties wanting to heal and put the family back together again, they faced difficulties. I thought Ann showed this struggle tenderly and realistically within the framework of the Sheldon family’s circumstances.
Ann says in her acknowledgements page that Billy’s character was inspired by Down Syndrome actor Chis Burke. Chris and his mother read Ann’s manuscript and offered feedback. She also talked with local parents and others who work with people with Down Syndrome.
My only difficulty with this story is that Rebekah is into some pagan-ish, New Age-y practices along with her best friend. I don’t have a problem with this being in the story, as people do turn to these things (and, spoiler alert, Rebekah finds they give her no peace or answers). But I’ve found I am sensitive to this kind of thing, so when Rebekah was performing her rituals, I had to skim through those pages.
But overall, I enjoyed the story very much. I ached along with each character in their difficulties and rejoiced with them in their victories.