I've also become a much pickier reader, especially now that I'm in my forties. Where I once would have tolerated formulas and shabby writing for the sake of a plot, I don't have much patience for bad writing any more. I don't need beautiful writing every time out of the gate, not by any means. But I do need writing that is serviceable, that carries the reader along without drawing attention to itself by how bad it is. In my experience, good writing and thrillers don't always, or even often, go hand in hand.
Reading Tim Johnston's new novel, Descent, was an act of great trust, and one bound by affection, too, when I got the request from Algonquin. I know I've said this before, but I love the folks at Algonquin. You know the old joke about when being asked to jump, the correct response is, "How high?" Well, when it comes to Algonquin and their requests for me to read something, my immediate response is "How soon?"
Thus it was that I curled myself up in bed one rainy afternoon back in...when was it? [Checks Goodreads] yes, August...with this book. I read and read. I dragged myself from bed to shower, and then back to bed to read some more. By the time I was 75 pages from the end, I'd grown a little stiff from reading in bed, so I moved to the kitchen to make myself a cup of tea. More the fool, I.
Learn from my mistake, peoples. Do NOT allow yourself to be interrupted during the last seventy-five pages of this book. My husband interrupted me not once, not twice, but three times. By the third time, we had a Situation on our hands.
That's really just the mark of a good book, isn't it? A book that is so engrossing that you're actively contemplating homicide as an alternative to being interrupted?
Hmmm, by now you might be wondering what this book is about. That is an excellent thing to be wondering about. Let me tell you:
Caitlin is a young cross country star, and when she graduates from high school, her parents take her and her brother Sean on a trip to Colorado to celebrate. One morning she sneaks out of the hotel room with Sean to go for a run, but she never comes back. In the meantime, a Good Samaritan calls their parents because Sean's been found on the side of the road, injured from a hit-and-run, but when he comes to in the hospital, he has no clear recollection of what happened to him or to Caitlin.
This starts the nightmare years for the family. Mom, Dad, Sean, Caitlin, the Sherriff, and others in the small Colorado town all take a turn at the narrative helm as time goes on. Mom eventually moves back home, Dad stays in Colorado to keep searching for Caitlin, but how can they possibly return to normalcy when their lives will never be normal again?
As a psychological portrait of a family torn apart, particularly with Sean who is wracked with survivor's guilt, Johnston does a great job. Their descent [see what I did there?] into destructive behavior is both gritty and convincing, and the portrayal of a town who wants to move on vs the father who won't let them is moving.
Taut and tense in all the right places, filled with heartbreakingly quotidian scenes in between as life goes on, this story of a daughterless family, a girl, and her years-long captivity is that rara avis: a truly literary thriller.