Binker

Tim Johnston
Descent

18 posts in this topic

This book received an enthusiastic review in the Dallas Morning News and so I bought and read it right away.  The reviews are right.  This is an excellent book. 

 

A family from Wisconsin--husband, wife, daughter about to go to college, and teenage son--take a family vacation in Colorado mountains before the daughter, a track star, leaves for college. She continues to train on vacation, running while her brother follows her on a bike (my daughter and husband used to do this, too, including on several trips to Colorado).  The parents wait for them at their hotel, only to get the call from the local sheriff that the son has been hit by a car, leg badly injured and in a coma.  When the parents ask to talk to their daughter, they are met with confusion and finally the sheriff tells them that their son arrived alone.

 

The book deals a bit with the investigation into what happened, which takes several years, but spends more time showing the effect of this terrible event on the family.  Everyone in the family falls rather spectacularly apart, in ways that were foreshadowed by their imperfect lives before this occurrence, but are much worse because of it.  Everyone feels guilty, everyone feels terrible loss, and no one can comfort anyone else.  

 

While each family member is a believable mix of good and bad, so are all of the supporting characters.  I don't think I've read a book in a long time where every single character is so believable.  I often say that everyone's best characteristic is also their worst and that is certainly true of the characters in this book.  

In particular, you cannot help but loathe Billy when he is introduced for being, among other failings, confrontational and violent and yet it is those very traits that enable him to be the hero of the book, dying to help free the girl who has been a captive in a shack up in the mountains. At one point, Billy's brother says that Billy "didn't go out of his way to bring out the best in people" and the girl's father says "I'm not likely to remember that part."  I think, though, that we should because Billy is both of those things.

 

 

The plotting seemed perfect to me.  There wasn't a wasted scene in the book.  And some of the images were also very good.  At one point, the mother, who is having a lot of trouble holding on to her sanity (which was a problem even before this happened) walks "along wet sidewalks and under dripping trees with the clouds coming apart in the sky like rotted fabric."  That is how clearing skies look, but it also says a lot about her state of mind.  In a different part of the country (New Mexico), the son is doing some hot manual labor.  "Around noon, with the sun roaring down, he walked to the hand pump near the smaller house, the casita, and struggled with it until at last the water retched up and ran in a cold stream that tasted of stones and iron." That is exactly how pumping water sounds, but you don't usually think of it as "retching."  It's another good image because it's both true and evocative.

 

There were some things that spoke to me because of other books we've read or things that have happened recently in my life.  At one point, the mother tries to help a little lost boy at a supermarket by taking him to the manager and is accused of walking off with someone else's child--like Quentin Compson.  I even noted it on my tablet!  And then the mother walks into the house for the first time:  "In that first moment, that silence, she heard the clicking of little toenails as Pepe came skating around the corner.  But Pepe was years ago....Such a profound absence for such a small creature."  I still hear Binker's toenails and jangling tags sometimes and although he wasn't a "small creature," I am startled at the huge space that he left.  Finally,

as in Room, the girl is determined to get out of her prison and in the end does escape, at great great personal cost, but without feeling sorry for herself in any way afterwards.

 

 

The end of the book is hopeful.  That's pretty much all I will say because I'm trying very hard not to give away too much.  I strongly encourage you to read it.

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This sounds really good - it's not out in the UK in paperback until August.  Drat!  Still good things come to those who wait.

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I think the next revolution should be to require all books to be available to everywhere as soon as they are published. I always find thse waits maddening. One of the best things about the tablet is that I can pre-order and then the book just appears, like magic!

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I just finished this book this morning and agree with everything you say Binker. I really enjoyed the book - I loved that time seemed to slow down when the family were living without Caitlyn. I had a couple of issues though and wonder if you would agree.

 

Angie, the mother, is vacant for most of the book. She is almost a cipher and I am not sure that was a deliberate action by the writer given that she seems less able to cope with the disappearance of her daughter than the rest of her family. So she metaphorically, literally and physically becomes a husk. In fact, women are woefully under represented in the book. The mother doesn't even warrant the time to be directly told information at the end. That really grated. The old 'wife is hysterical' trope. Yawn.

 

And...

 

 

  What was the purpose of the doctor at the end telling Grant about how skilled Caitlyn was cutting off her foot? Even asking if she had medical training? It wasn't even an offhand observation - he belaboured the point. That seemed completely ridiculous and redundant.

 

 

Anyway, gripes aside, the denouement had me racing through at record pace and was just a great resolution, especially the use of Billy.

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I thought the mother was such a cipher because she was a cipher to herself.  I think she'd been struggling with mental health issues for a long time and was pushed over the edge by her daughter's disappearance.  It was painful to read.

 

As for your spoiler, I don't remember that part of the book at all.  

Maybe the author was worrying about how believable it would be that someone could cut off their own foot.  There was a guy who did that when he got trapped by a boulder while hiking in Utah and that was something most people had a real problem believing.  Otherwise, I'm sorry to say, I've got nothing.

 

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Was so impressed with your reviews that I bought this book today. Although it'll be awhile before I get to it.

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I have it on Kindle but haven't started it yet, will not read the reviews until I've read the book.

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I thought the mother was such a cipher because she was a cipher to herself.  I think she'd been struggling with mental health issues for a long time and was pushed over the edge by her daughter's disappearance.  It was painful to read.

 

As for your spoiler, I don't remember that part of the book at all. 

Hmm, I see that point but I just felt that she was completely vacant other than to mention she had a breakdown but was now a teacher and with a new life. It was as if the author couldn't be bothered fleshing her out as much as he did with the father and Sean.

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I tend to shy away from these types of books because they are highly disturbing to me, and this was no exception, especially so since it was so believable, the characters so well developed, and the writing so good. I couldn't put it down and read it through in one day, although a lot of that was that I needed to be shut of that world and the tension it provoked in me. There wasn't a scene in the book that didn't have at least a subtle sense of menace. Not a fun time, but superbly, unsentimentally, and innovatively done.

As for the mother, I think her relative absence from the narrative had much to do with the fact that she wasn't doing anything. Johnson didn't concern himself much with people's interior lives, and Angela was all interior life after Caitlyn's disappearance.

And as for your concern Hazel,

I think the dr going on and on about the skill of the amputation was to justify Caitlyn's 'practice amputation' of Billy's foot, and to show what a smart and clear thinking woman Caitlyn was.

 

All in all a darn good thriller, and I am glad I am done reading it. 4stars

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I stalled on this one knowing what was going to happen to a girl whose college career was based on her running skills - I chickened out.  Still have it on Kindle and who knows, maybe will revisit it.

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And as for your concern Hazel,

I think the dr going on and on about the skill of the amputation was to justify Caitlyn's 'practice amputation' of Billy's foot, and to show what a smart and clear thinking woman Caitlyn was.

 

 

Yes, I suppose that was the point after all,

how else would she have survived if not clear and smart thinking?

 

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I am nearing the end of this marvellous book, just into part five where Caitlin has been found, around 30 ish pages from the end.  I'm caught in my eagerness to find out what happens next and my wanting it to last as long as possible. 

 

I like that the chapters are from different characters' points of view and that the reader doesn't necessarly know immediately which character they are reading about.  It hasn't given much description of the kidnapper, though (so far) and I'm beginning to think that the title is not only a reference to getting off the mountain but also the degradation of the kidnapped girl - it's obvious that Caitlin Courtland is not the first to experience this captivity.

Edited by lunababymoonchild

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Finished this tonight and I loved it.  My copy had a note from the author and questions that he suggested to discuss the book, all of which were very interesting.

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Sent a copy of this to my RL friend and she tells me that she started this yesterday and is halfway through.

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Wow, what a good book this was! I'm not going to repeat what's being said before but this was one of those rare thrillers that I found properly satisfying, it's good a great storyline, it's very well written and even the bit charecters are distinctinve and real.

 

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I'm so glad all of you thought this was so good.  I still remember it as being one of my best reads of 2015.

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