KingMidget's Ramblings

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Descent by Tim Johnston


Book four in my reading journey through Spring Training reading is Descent by Tim Johnston. Completely unintentionally, Descent is very much the fictionalized version of the last book I read, Alligator Candy by David Kushner.

Where Alligator Candy tells the true story of Kushner’s brother disappearing back in 1973, Descent tells the story of Caitlin’s disappearance in the mountains of Colorado. Where Alligator Candy shows a family that sticks together in the face of such tragedy, Descent tells the story of a family that is pretty much ripped apart by the tragedy of a child who disappears.

I’ll go back to my review of The Wolf Road and ask the question again. With The Wolf Road, I asked the question of why post-apocalyptic tales always seem to display the absolute worst aspects of human nature. Why isn’t it possible that after the apocalypse humans might actually learn something from it and end the brutality and inhumanity? Similarly, the true story version of a disappeared child shows a family staying together, keeping their bond and growing stronger over the years. And the fictionalized version shows the worst of humanity — a family ripped apart and stumbling blindly through the tragedy as they descend into the darkness. I’m sure the Descent version of the results of such a tragedy is not far from the truth, but it does make me wonder. We need … well wait a sec.

In my writing, there is always death and sadness and despair. Or at least some of my readers think that. They ask me why and I tell them that there is no drama in happy. Okay, I answered my own question.

Moving on to the nuts and bolts of ¬†Descent, it’s another one of those stories that I struggled to start. The opening chapter or two covering Caitlin’s disappearance were good and compelling. But then the book went through this incredibly muddled group of chapters, flipping back and forth between the narrative of a handful of characters in an almost completely baffling way. For several chapters I could make no sense of the who or the what or the why.

Fortunately, by about a third of the way through the book, the narrative improved, it became clearer, compelling, must read.

Much like with Alligator Candy, if you can handle the subject matter, I encourage you to give Descent a try. I will say there was one small disappointment for me in the story, but it is a disappointment of my own making. About two thirds of the way through the book, as the narrative improved and my eagerness for the story grew, I began to feel like this would be one of those stories that would shake me at the end. That there would be a moment of emotional release and a sense that THIS IS A STORY. That ended up not happening, but the story is still compelling, a good read, and worth the time.

Two more books to go in my Spring Training reading journey.

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3 responses to “Descent by Tim Johnston

  1. cinthiaritchie April 12, 2017 at 10:48 am

    That’s funny: I enjoyed the beginning of the book the best, when Caitlin is running up the mountain with her brother and she feels strong and good and happy and then wham!, her life changes in an instant. I don’t know why that struck me so hard. Maybe because I’m a woman who often runs alone in the mountain and I realize what a slight grasp we all have on the world, which makes every run that much more significant. Whatever the case, what bothered me most the was how Johnston referred to the brother as “the boy,” as if trying to model himself after you-know-who in the literary world.
    P.S. There isn’t much drama to happy. Sad, isn’t it?

    • kingmidget April 12, 2017 at 11:33 am

      The beginning is good. It’s the part a few chapters in, after she disappears, that just seems so muddled. Just a few chapters. I think you’re right about “the boy.”

  2. Pingback: When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi | KingMidget's Ramblings

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