Two young women are driving home when they are assaulted at a gas station and driven off into a river. One dies, and the other’s condition brings back bad memories for her father, a former sheriff who investigated the death of another young woman at the same river ten years ago. At the time, there wasn’t enough evidence to convict the man accused of the crime, and so the sheriff had to let him go, and now with his daughter’s life similarly endangered, he must confront the situation he put that other father through, all those years ago.
The Current is a story about the violence done against women, and the effect of this violence on the men in their lives. Johnston takes us deep into the emotional journeys of two of the fathers, their guilt at being unable to protect their children and their rage at the men who dared to hurt them. The book also shows us the law enforcement officials involved in both cases, and how they confront their own complicity in allowing such acts to occur. We also meet the young man accused of the crime ten years ago, whose life basically fell apart, and who continues to insist on his innocence. We do get the perspective of the young woman who survived the present day incident, as she launches her own investigation of the matter, but it’s the fathers’ emotions that seem the most raw, and leave the most impact.
Johnston also has a lyrical writing style. His language casts a soft focus light on even the most violent scenes, turning away before it can get too graphic. The pacing is slow, which works for the language, and the book somehow reminds me of Jeffrey Eugenides’ Virgin Suicides in that it tackles some pretty horrific content, but in a way that feels almost gentle in its execution. A climactic chase scene on the ice feels almost melancholy rather than urgent; while we see the heightened emotions of the characters, the overall feeling is one of desolation rather than fear.
The Current is a well-written book, with a tragic story. There’s a part where a sheriff asks why he didn’t know about something, and the young woman responds something to the effect that it’s always only girls on the lake. And there’s certainly that sense of inevitability and injustice in this book, and a desire on the part of some of the characters to do better.
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Thanks to Thomas Allen for an advance reading copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.