book review: Descent by Tim Johnston


(Source: GoodReads)

This book will not be everyone’s cup of tea. I could feel that as I began reading. Described as “a pulse-pounding thriller” on the cover – Descent is just… not that. Instead, it’s a lyrically and gorgeously written examination of what happens to a family fracturing under the weight of unfathomable grief.

While away on a family vacation in the Rockies, as a couple hopes to repair their marriage – their children go out on a run. Only one comes back. Eighteen-year-old Caitlin has vanished – and her family are immediately plunged into a nightmarish world they know nothing about. Already tenuous, their connection to one another snaps, and they each struggle to come to terms with Caitlin’s disappearance, what might be happening to her wherever she is and how long they should keep searching – years?


Descent is powerful. The descriptions of the mountains and the landscape reflect the wild grief at the core of this book – and sometimes, it’s almost dizzying. How can you search, when it’s like looking for the proverbial needle in the haystack? And yet, how can you not? Knowing your daughter, your sister is out there in the world, perhaps suffering, perhaps dead – perhaps screaming – perhaps bloodied and boneless – the not knowing is enough to drive a person insane, enough to drive a person to do things they would not normally do.

Enough to disassemble a person. Enough to disassemble a marriage, a family.

It’s painful, it’s true, and it’s all brought to startling life by Tim Johnston through the brilliance of his prose, and the emotional intelligence he brings to every facet of his writing. At the end of Descent, I had tears at the back of my throat and the feeling I only get from a truly satisfying, truly well-told and truly moving book.

The sensation of being glad I was able to read it, experience it and remember it. So while Descent may not be everyone’s cup of tea, I think it’s a fiercely written ode to the strength of women, the love of a parent for a child and the undying nature of one simple thing, as crucial as anything else on earth: wanting to live. 



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