Returning home is a popular theme in literature, and Nicholas Sparks explores it in his latest novel aptly named The Return (Grand Central). This one centers on a veteran named Trevor Benson, who is suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome after being wounded by a mortar explosion in Afghanistan. When Trevor’s grandfather dies, he’s gifted a cabin in New Bern, North Carolina, a place where he spent the summers of his childhood. An orthopedic surgeon with plans to go back to medical school for psychiatry, Trevor returns to the small town temporarily with plans to refurbish the cabin for resale while caring for the beehives his grandfather was known in New Bern for tending.
Shortly after returning, Trevor meets a young woman named Callie, who lives in a trailer among others at the end of the road. As he continues to encountering her on her near-daily walks to a waitressing job, Trevor senses something is amiss — she is extraordinarily evasive and timid. Soon he discovers that Callie knew his grandfather and even helped him with the care of the bees. When Trevor learns of a fire in the trailer park and the subsequent mysterious overnight guest in his grandfather’s cabin immediately after he died, he suspects it was Callie.
Trevor learns about the squatter with peculiar habits during a visit from a local sheriff’s deputy named Natalie Masterson, who unexpectantly appears at his door one night. Trevor is immediately taken with her, and noting that she isn’t wearing a wedding ring, he pursues her. Natalie remains distant even while encouraging a relationship with Trevor, which confounds him.
In what Sparks describes as a “soft mystery,” the reader is treated to a first-person account of a double-pronged love story where the mystery unfolds of who Callie is and why Natalie is reluctant. It’s a healing endeavor for Trevor as he struggles with his physical and emotional wounds. He wants to help Callie in a platonic way and win Natalie’s romantic love.
The lack of a recent connection between Trevor and his grandfather is curious. Still, it is meant to demonstrate how war experiences made Trevor distant from the people closest to him, including himself. His relationships with the women and care of the hives help repair the part of him that was ruptured overseas. Other serious topics, including teenage runaways, are lightly explored.
For those interested in a pleasant read that moves like honey as it illuminates of the details of everyday life felt through the protective cover of a beekeeping suit where the real sting of the thorny subjects, including love, is made more palatable through purposeful muting, The Return is for you. It’s sentimental and sweet — an escape from the harsher concerns of today.