Book Review: The Descent by Tim Johnston

December 14, 2015 Book Reviews, Horrific Monday, Horror 0

I received this book for free from AudioBook Reviewer in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review: The Descent by Tim JohnstonDescent by Tim Johnston
Published by Algonquin Books on January 6th 2015
Narrator: R. C. Bray, Xe Sands
Genres: Mystery, Mystery & Detective, Psychological, Thrillers
Pages: 376
Source: AudioBook Reviewer
One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarHalf a Star

The Rocky Mountains have cast their spell over the Courtlands, a young family from the plains taking a last summer vacation before their daughter begins college. For eighteen-year-old Caitlin, the mountains loom as the ultimate test of her runner’s heart, while her parents hope that so much beauty, so much grandeur, will somehow repair a damaged marriage. But when Caitlin and her younger brother, Sean, go out for an early morning run and only Sean returns, the mountains become as terrifying as they are majestic, as suddenly this family find themselves living the kind of nightmare they’ve only read about in headlines or seen on TV.
As their world comes undone, the Courtlands are drawn into a vortex of dread and recrimination. Why weren’t they more careful? What has happened to their daughter? Is she alive? Will they ever know? Caitlin’s disappearance, all the more devastating for its mystery, is the beginning of the family’s harrowing journey down increasingly divergent and solitary paths until all that continues to bind them together are the questions they can never bring themselves to ask: At what point does a family stop searching? At what point will a girl stop fighting for her life?
Written with a precision that captures every emotion, every moment of fear, as each member of the family searches for answers, Descent is a perfectly crafted thriller that races like an avalanche toward its heart-pounding conclusion, and heralds the arrival of a master storyteller.


My thoughts

Wow. There is a LOT of emotion in this. It is a thriller that is jam packed with emotional turmoil.

Caitlin is a runner. While she and her family are on vacation, she decides to go for a run with her tag-a-long brother. What happens next is the mystery of the book, but one that her family is not willing to give up.

The strangeness to this is that the time line skips around. It goes back and forth a lot so it is hard to know when something is happening now or in the future. That comes to a close later in the book but while the background of the family is being played out, it is strange. They all have demons that they are fighting with, or for, and nobody knows how to make life normal again.

The parents are really in turmoil. At the beginning of the story they are trying to make things work, but their past infedelities catch up with them and the drama of Caitlin being gone just feeds their animosity for one another. They did not really know how to get past their normal drama, so getting past a daughter missing is an extraordinary feat. One they are not well-equipped to deal with.

Caitlin’s brother also has his own demons and it isn’t known until much later on, what exactly happened in those woods.

The narration was very well done. Having two narrators for this is a must as the points of view change often. I just listened to The Martian, so I was quite excited to listen to another story from R.C. Bray. This story is quite different and although some of the characters are facetious, that fabulous character and tone of his wasn’t quite put to use in this one. Although that saddens me, he still did a fantastic job of allowing the story tell itself, through his voice. Xe Sands was just as good and portrayed the women, namely Caitlin, very well. The empathy that is wrought at the end of the book was partly due to the story, yes, but also to the emotion that came out in her voice.

In short: This is a fantastic, dramatic, and completely terrifying story. I wanted to cry and had an hour left. It will pull at all of your emotions.

Rating Report
4.5 / 5
Character Development
5 / 5
Writing Style
5 / 5
Personal enjoyment
5 / 5
3.5 / 5
Overall: 4.6 / 5
The Author


Tim Johnston is the author of the novel Descent, 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. In 2005 the title story, “Irish Girl,” was included in the David Sedaris anthology of favorites, Children Playing Before a Statue of Hercules. 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 currently teaches in the Creative Writing Program at the University of Memphis.

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