Monday, November 4, 2019
The Current by Tim Johnston: Reading Room Review
I'm so pleased that I used both audio and print to read The Currrent by Tim Johnston. I needed a book for several short road trips, and this book was a great audio choice, being a storyteller's story where pauses built suspense and prevented glancing ahead. But, I read the last half of the book in print, and this format allowed me to linger on the beauty of the language and reread parts I desired to do so with. The Current is simply a great story, a pulsing, living thing that does its title proud. The twists and turns mimic those of the river, too, and like the river, there is a history of beauty and heartache. Author Tim Johnston has an eye for detail and a talent for weaving those details into a tale of far-reaching effects. He has created a cast of compelling characters in this book, too, and readers will become emotionally invested in and touched by more than one of their struggles.
Audrey Sutter and Caroline Price are traveling from a college in the South to Audrey's home in Minnesota, where Audrey's ailing father is running short on time, his lung cancer gaining on him daily. When the girls make a pit stop at an out-of-the-way gas station in the Iowa countryside, Audrey is attacked by one of two young men who mean her harm, and it is only by Caroline's quick thinking and mace spray that they get away. Driving fast to put distance between them, Caroline, who grew up in the South and isn't used to driving on icy northern roads, loses control of her car and the girls end up teetering on the edge of a bank over the Black Root River, frozen over on its top. As they teeter there, a vehicle's headlights come up behind them, but it's not there to help, as it taps their bumper and sends them plunging. One girl will live and one girl will die, and a ten-year-old case of another girl who lost her life under suspicious circumstances in the Black Root River in Audrey's hometown will be dredged up for further investigation. Two investigations, one river, and one town that has secrets waiting to surface. Who pushed Audrey and Caroline into the river? Who threw Holly Burke into the same wintery river ten years ago further along its path? If I said more, I would risk the chance that new readers wouldn't enjoy the discovery of those secrets and the characters who possess them for themselves.
Told from a limited, multiple third-persons point of view, it was easy to become engaged in the characters' personal stories and heartaches. The sorrow of those affected by the ten-year-old death of Holly Burke and the new death is a palatable one. From law enforcement, including Audrey's retired sheriff father, to an old dog named Wyatt, grief and a weariness cloud the community. Futures once bright were forever darkened with the first river tragedy, and a desperation for answers and a demand for responsibility has reached its boiling point. And, yet, the characters don't strike one as defeated, just muted for a period, waiting for their world to be righted. Of course, muted may be an odd choice here, as one of Johnston's many writing strengths is dialogue. Never superfluous, but always on point, the dialogue is one of the currents that move the story.
The book does begin rather slowly, with its build-up to the girls' car going into the frozen river, but hopefully readers will experience that measured part as I did and as Audrey and Caroline did, as the motion of falling, moving slowly toward their fate, but then with rapid chill, lives are changed from normal college girls in the world to the darkness and cold of a winter river. This excerpt brings you to the moment of the momentum change, although Johnston is not one to be hurried in the continued telling, and the reader will be happy for that. The following excerpt is an observance of the author's amazing command of language, as well as pace.
“The nose of the car drops over the edge of the bank and the world pitches, and their own weight rolls forward through their bodies as at the top of a roller coaster just before the drop – the deep human fear of falling, the plunging heart, and there’s no stopping it and no getting out and nothing to do but hold on. And down they go, fast and easy in the snow, toboggan-smooth, hand in hand, their grips so tight, the grips of girls much younger, girls who will not be separated, their faces forward, watching the surface of the river, the black glistening ice as it rushes up toward them, larger and larger, until there’s nothing in the windshield but the ice, dark and wide as an ocean and they are going to it, they are going to strike it nose-first with the car and they can imagine that, the sudden ending of forward motion as the car meets the plane of the ice, but after that they cannot imagine, they have never been here before and there is no way to know what will happen next except to go through it…”
The Current is an exceptional novel, and Tim Johnston is an author I will be following from now on. His debut novel, Descent, an NPR Best Books of 2015 honoree, will be on my nightstand soon. Already on numerous "best" lists for 2019, including audio ones, The Current has landed on my Best Reads of 2019, too. I'm torn between advising readers to listen to the spellbinding audio read by Sarah Mollo-Christensen or pour over the print version to enjoy re-reading Johnston's smooth flowing prose. I feel that I had the best of both worlds by dividing it between audio and print. However readers choose to take in this amazing tale, it will be a memorable read that will make Tim Johnston one of your must-read authors.