Review: The Current by Tim Johnston

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☆☆➹⁀☆4 stars ☆➹⁀☆☆


What It’s About:

When two young women leave their college campus in the dead of winter for a 700-mile drive north to Minnesota, they suddenly find themselves fighting for their lives in the icy waters of the Black Root River, just miles from home. One girl’s survival, and the other’s death—murder, actually—stun the citizens of a small Minnesota town, thawing memories of another young woman who lost her life in the same river ten years earlier, and whose killer may yet live among them. One father is forced to relive his agony while another’s greatest desire—to bring a killer to justice—is revitalized . . . and the girl who survived the icy plunge cannot escape the sense that she is connected to that earlier unsolved case by more than a river. Soon enough she’s caught up in an investigation of her own that will unearth long-hidden secrets, and stoke the violence that has long simmered just below the surface of the town. Souls frozen in time, ghosts and demons, the accused and the guilty, all stir to life in this cold northern place where memories, like treachery, run just beneath the ice, and where a young woman can come home but still not be safe.

This hauntingly beautiful novel wraps elements of the conventional thriller with emotional depth and visceral intensity, unfolding in an elegant literary narrative. When describing the novel, Johnston says, “THE CURRENT may differ from other ‘literary suspense/crime’ novels in that it does not always offer absolute certainty or resolution or justice; nor does it race toward an ultimate confrontation between protagonist and antagonist. Instead it moves in and out of time, in and out of families, building on the wounds and obsessions of characters who, while not villains themselves, do not always act nobly or even legally. The individual currents of characters barely known to each other combine through chance and history into a single current of loss, but also love.”

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My Thoughts:

Tim Johnston’s The Current feels more like classic literature rather than top-ten murder mystery, and that is not a bad thing. Every choice the author made really added to the mood and flow of his novel.

The writing is very descriptive. The character development is excellent; they’re layered and nuanced.
The prose flows like a river under the ice—hard and brittle like the surface at times, and yet, deep and rushing at other times. I found the third person narrative difficult to get into given the genre, but as the story tension mounted, I became more invested in the increasingly complex storyline. I have to admit that I ended up appreciating the multiple character perspective the third-person narrative allowed. The rich characters and small town relationships really drew me in. I could hear their keening at the loss and abuse of loved ones. Mr. Johnston truly makes the reader feel each fathers’ and mothers’ loss.

The Current is not a fast paced novel, but its rich detail, and deep emotions will keep you invested. It really gave me pause to think about the assumptions one makes about their own safety, about presumed guilt, and safety some assume through their job/work role.



About the author:  In addition to Descent, Tim Johnston is the author of the story collection Irish Girl, and the young adult novel Never So Green. Irish Girl won the 2009 Katherine Anne Porter Prize in Short Fiction. Johnston’s stories have also appeared in New England Review, New Letters, the Iowa Review, the Missouri Review, DoubleTake, Best Life Magazine, and Narrative Magazine, among others. He holds degrees from the University of Iowa and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and lives in Iowa City.


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