Friday, January 9, 2015

Book Review: "Descent" by Tim Johnston

The Courtland family—Grant, Angela, Caitlin, and Sean—travel to the Rocky Mountains for a summer vacation before Caitlin leaves for college. The destination is Caitlin's choice—a championship runner, she hopes to challenge herself on the rugged terrain of the mountains so she is ready to compete at the collegiate level in a few months. For Grant and Angela, struggling to rebuild their marriage, the vacation represents an opportunity to try and strengthen a fragile trust.

Caitlin and Sean go for an early morning run/bike ride in the mountains. A few hours later, Grant gets a phone call from the county sheriff that Sean has been found badly injured on the side of a road, probably hit by a car, and Caitlin is nowhere to be found. All too quickly the idyllic vacation turns into a family's worst nightmare—what could have happened to Caitlin? Where is she? Is she alive? Will they ever see her again?

Descent follows Grant, Angela, and Sean as they try to make sense of Caitlin's disappearance. Already deeply affected by another tragedy earlier in her life, Angela's grasp on reality becomes ever more tenuous, and she tries to reconcile her feelings for her husband and her son. Grant and Sean each try to deal with their feelings of guilt and anger in very different ways, while navigating the tension that has grown between them.

I felt as if this was, in essence, two books in one. There was the exploration of family dynamics in the wake of a cataclysmic event, and then the tension-filled, heart-pounding conclusion. Tim Johnston is a terrific writer, and his use of language and imagery was almost poetic at times. I could have done with less introspection, because while I understand it was necessary to show just how vastly each individual was affected, I felt as if the same things happened over and over again. But once the action and suspense ratchets up, despite containing elements you've seen many times before, the book stepped itself up a notch or two.

This is a well-written book that definitely gets your heart pounding at the end. But the quiet moments in the book are just as powerful, and prove Johnston's strengths as a writer.

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