“Because it was only girls…in the river…it’s always been only girls.”
In a small town in Minnesota, in the depths of winter, a car with two girls goes in the river, but only one girl survives. The survivor claims they were pushed into the river. The crime is eerily similar to the death of a young girl in the river 10 years ago, a murder that was never solved. The recent death dredges up an unresolved past with long-buried griefs and suspicions. We see the poisonous effects of an unresolved murder on the residents of this small town. A murder that changed their lives forever.This is a literary, character-driven mystery, not a suspenseful whodunit. I like deep dives into character’s psyches so this style worked for me. The mood is dark and grim, and the suspicions and heartaches in this town run deep. I came to care about the characters and felt their grief and sorrow as well as their desire for resolution and vengeance. Even Wyatt, the old dog who is grieving the loss of his master and is nearing the end of his life touched my heart.
The first half of the novel was a slow build-up with setting up the characters and the backstory. It required a fair bit of attention and concentration and it took me a while to figure out who was who and what had happened. But it was worth it. In the last half everything came together beautifully and I found myself unable to tear myself away from the pages.
I loved Johnston’s writing style. There is a strong sense of place and a depth to his prose and characters. The unrelenting cold of a Minnesota winter is nearly a character itself in this atmospheric tale and I felt chilled to the bone as I read.
“Life was organic and that was one kind of energy, ashes to ashes, but there was also energy between living beings, currents that traveled between them outside of biology, and that energy could not be buried, and neither could it fade into nothing, because energy never just ended, it transformed and recycled and you felt it even if you didn’t believe in it.
“Souls. Spirits. Whatever you call it there was a current and you were always in it always and you couldn’t bury it.’
Ten years ago a young girl went into the freezing cold river. She was murdered and a family, a father, and a small town reeled from the shock, a loss of life that sent currents through lives that were never to be the same again. The murderer was never found. Yes, there was a suspect, a young man, whose family was devastated and as the young man is let go, he runs away. He runs from a family, a twin brother, and a mother who loved him. He runs from a dog, whose devotion never wavers. He runs from a town that has already decided he is guilty and will never forgive him.
Now, ten years later two young women go into the lake and only one comes out alive. The tragedy brings back once again the hurt, the devastation, the sadness experienced by the people who were involved in the first tragedy. Is the same killer back? As this current murder brings up the former one, the people once again reflect and find themselves caught up in both tragedies. Will there be answers and will the murderer be caught and receive his just desserts?
This was a an amazingly well written book, one that led the reader slowly, ever so slowly to its conclusion. We are given clues, but more importantly we are given characters that evoke sadness, compassion, and pity. We see lives ruined, families torn apart, grief and mourning for years the lives that were lost and yes, there was more than one life lost. The author makes you believe and think about loss, think about the repercussions that reverberate for a lifetime for those who lost a loved one and those who walk with an aura of suspicion surrounding them. There are no easy answers and just like in life itself, the author provides us with instances that make you think, make you wonder, and make you understand that life is not something tied up in a neat little package. Life is a series of hurt, of being buffeted, and agonized over the way in which life has treated you.
Kudos to you, Mr Johnston for writing what I consider as a thinking person’s book. This book made me feel the hurt and pain, made me feel the cold of the lake and its environs, make me feel the current that ran not only through the lake but also through a town and its people.
This book managed to bring about some wonderful discussions between my book buddy, Jan and I, and isn’t that what a prodigious book does? We heartily recommend this one.
and here’s the author:
Tim Johnston is the author of the novels Descent and The Current (Jan 22, 2019), the story collection Irish Girl, and the Young Adult novel Never So Green. Published in 2009, the stories of Irish Girl won an O. Henry Prize, the New Letters Award for Writers, and the Gival Press Short Story Award, while the collection itself won the 2009 Katherine Anne Porter Prize in Short Fiction. Tim’s stories have also appeared in New England Review, New Letters, The Iowa Review, The Missouri Review, Double Take, Best Life Magazine, and Narrative Magazine, among others. He holds degrees from the University of Iowa and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. In 2011-12 he was the Jenny McKean Moore Writer-in-Washington Fellow at The George Washington University, and he is the recipient of the 2015 Iowa Author Award. Tim currently lives in Iowa City, Iowa.