Iowa City native Tim Johnston has received very well-deserved rave reviews for his first adult novel, “Descent.” This page-turning thriller with its deeply developed characters and intense situations is one of the smartest, most engrossing reads I’ve come across in months.
Grant and Angela Courtland, from Wisconsin, have treated their children, 18-year-old Caitlin and 15-year-old Sean, to a vacation in the Rocky Mountains. Caitlin, who will be starting college soon on a track scholarship, is looking forward to testing her running skills at the higher elevation. Early in the morning, she wakes up her brother, and they head out — she on foot and he on a bike. Hours later, the parents receive a phone call that Sean has been seriously injured in an accident, but there is no trace of Caitlin. Sean tells the authorities he saw his sister being taken away in the vehicle that hit him. For the Courtlands, the grandeur of the mountains turns horrific as the agonizing search for Caitlin begins.
In most books that I read, I usually think about why an author came up with the title he or she did. This one is brilliant, because the story addresses not just the Courtland family’s literal climb down from the mountains after the official search is over, but also the subsequent descent in the emotional lives of Caitlin’s parents and brother. The three of them grow more distant from one another, and their paths diverge as they address a heartbreaking question — at what point does a family give up on the search, the hope of finding their missing child? CV
Shirley Shiffler grew up in Urbandale, graduated from Drake University (twice!), and lives in Beaverdale.