How to tell a great story.. #fictionfriends # duoreviews Descent @TJohnstonWriter #algonquin #family #mystery #colorado #rockymountains @JanBelisle @absltmom

This is our second Tim Johnston book and our excitement ran high for this book. We both loved his book The Current and so with book in hand we began this journey into the Rocky Mountains with a family of four where tragedy was waiting, loss was coming, and a family would experience pain, hope, and a sense that perhaps someday all would be better.

“There was such randomness in the world, the passing faces told him, such strange and meaningless intersections—this man could be him, or this man.”

Jan’s review

“A daughter was your life; it was as simple as that. Her body was the only body, her heart the only heart. The most absolute, the most terrible love.”

A parent’s worst nightmare.

Grant and Angela, and their two children, Sean and Caitlin, take a much-needed vacation in the Rocky Mountains before Caitlin heads off to college.  Caitlin and her brother go running/biking in the hills early one morning when they are hit by a truck. Sean is left severely injured on the side of the road, and Caitlin is abducted.

This sounds like the start of an ordinary thriller but in the deft hands of this talented author, it is anything but ordinary. The strength of the story is not simply the plot, but it is also the quality of the writing, the deep dive into the character’s psyches, and the exploration of the devastating effects on the family. People are complicated and flawed, and never more so than when in the midst of a crisis.

The days turn into weeks, the weeks into months, and the months into years, but still Caitlin has not been found.  With gorgeous prose, the author intimately captures the nuances of the characters and their emotions. They are each living inside their own private hell, a “descent” if you will, and I took that painful journey with them. I felt their pain and anguish.

Some families pull together at times of crisis. Other families are being held together by a string and those ties are easily broken. Eventually, Angela returns home to Wisconsin and Grant and Sean stay in Colorado.  They are on a mission, but each takes a different path.

 “I never believed in God like I never believed in the truly bad man. In his power to touch me. Now I ask of this God, that if he will not give me my daughter back, at least give me my bad man. At least give me that. I spend my nights dreaming of nothing else.” 

The story is told mainly from Grant and Sean’s perspective. There’s a variety of secondary characters and the shifting narratives left me a little confused in the beginning. Once I figured it out, I was completely captivated. I had to fight the  dual urges to read quickly to figure out what happened next  vs slowing down to savor the writing.

Once I reached the last 1/3 of the novel the thriller aspect kicked up a notch and it was heart-pounding suspense till the end.  I stayed up until 2:30 A.M. to finish, something I haven’t done in years. I suffered from a book hangover the next day but I have no regrets.

I do have one small complaint where, at the end of the book, the psychological effects for one of the characters was not addressed, which felt unrealistic.

Highly recommended for any reader who loves powerful, character-driven novels.  The way this book made me feel will stay with me long after the details of the plot fades. This author’s writing reminds me of another favorite author, Kent Haruf. Both write beautiful prose, but Mr. Johnston’s tales are darker and grittier. 

I buddy read this with my friend, Marialyce, and this author is now on our short list of favorite authors. We hope he is hard at work on his next novel and we can hardly wait!

Marialyce’s review

Looking for a good vacation, a time to meld together, a time to be at peace with one another, the Courtlands, Grant and Angela, travel into the Rocky Mountains with their daughter Caitlin, a track star and an upcoming freshman in college, and Sean, their teenage son. Anxious to challenge her skills, Caitlin heads out one morning with Sean in tow and runs up the hillside. However, as two children go up the mountain, only one, Sean, descends and people who were trying hard to pull life together were hit with a blow so deep, so cruel that life stalled and a daughter and sister went missing.

From the exquisite details making the reader seemed to be tucked into the pocket of the characters experiencing their turmoil, to the environment portrayed, this book caught you in its pages and made one realize that this is what terrific writing is all about. You were there experiencing the pain, the loss, the love, and that spirit that with faith and hope, life can perhaps one day be as it once was.

“A year by the calendar since she’d vanished, one hour by the heart.”

Mr Johnston portrayed Grant and Sean as steadfast possessing that will that forced them forward towards finding their daughter and sister. A year goes by and then two and yet that hope is there for their mind and heart imparts a dream, she is still alive.

“A daughter was your life; it was as simple as that. Her body was the only body, her heart the only heart. The most absolute, the most terrible love.”

The author depicted the daughter, Caitlin, as a force to be reckoned with. She drew upon the qualities of bravery, endurance, and courage. It seemed as if Mr Johnston placed male characteristics onto the persona of his female protagonist and female characteristics onto his male characters. A kind of role reversal occurred, making this book unstoppable in its portrayal of family, life, and tragedy. The book starts slowly establishing both the characters and the story line within the reader and then draws you in to a compulsive read as you trek your way to its conclusion.

There were other male characters, Emmett, the rancher, where the father and later the son stayed, his two sons, one a sheriff, and one a good for nothing. Yet, in all these characters, he showed what it was to be human, to be a part of a culture, to be people of resiliency, tenacity, and disappointment. The mother who tried to escape in her own way lent a poignancy to this tragedy. However this was a story of the men and the daughter/sister they were on a mission to find.

Jan and I definitely recommend this book as one where you will be drawn into its meticulous writing, mesmerized by the scenes, and shed a tear or two for the heartaches that are mirrored in this tale. We are so hoping that Tim is busily writing his next story for we are anxiously waiting in the wings for it.

“I like a good story, don’t get me wrong. But a man should never be the hero of his own stories. Nobody likes those stories.” But a woman hero, why yes, she can.

and here’s the author:

Tim Johnston is the author of the story collection Irish Girl and the novels Never So Green and Descent: a novel.

He graduated from the University of Iowa, and the University of Massachusetts Amherst.[ He worked as a carpenter. He is the 2011 Jenny McKean Moore Writer-in-Residence at The George Washington University

His stories have also appeared in Best Life Magazine, California Quarterly,[Colorado Review, Double Take, New England Review, New Letters, The Iowa Review, The Missouri Review, , and Narrative Magazine.He is the recipient of the 2015 Iowa Author Award, and currently lives in Iowa City, Iowa. (Wikipedia)

2 thoughts on “How to tell a great story.. #fictionfriends # duoreviews Descent @TJohnstonWriter #algonquin #family #mystery #colorado #rockymountains @JanBelisle @absltmom

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