Audrey Sutter is determined to leave college and travel north to Minnesota to visit her dying father. The problem is she is too broke for bus fare. She asks her best friend Caroline to spot her the money – a fatal decision. Feeling spurned by her boyfriend, Caroline impulsively offers to drive Audrey to Minnesota instead. Was this actually the fatal decision? Chance ricochets through this novel, shattering expectations and splicing relationships. Filled with reflection, the characters continually encounter unanswerable questions.
Audrey and Caroline encounter violence at a gas station close to their destination. What if they didn’t stop for gas? Their story swerves abruptly, and when the car stops spinning they are in the Black Root River. Together they struggle for survival against the icy current. The narrative deepens as it is revealed that another girl drowned in the same river a decade earlier. There was a suspect but no arrest, the case unresolved. Are the drownings related? The two cases inform each other as the characters, past and present, converge. The setting, a small Minnesota town, makes for long memories and the loss of anonymity. Were the drownings accidental, or is there a murderer in the community?
Masterfully crafted, “The Current” displays a literary depth that is a rarity in the fast-paced prose of the thriller genre. Johnston knows how to write, and he is not shy about deftly showcasing his talent. Told through shifting points of view, there is a plethora of characters, which is initially confusing. The cadence created by the stylized dialogue eventually renders the characters unique and memorable. The narrative eddies around a beloved mutt as a plot device, initiating the return of the suspected killer. As the novel progresses, the pace accelerates, flooding the narrative with suspense as it plunges into thriller territory.
The river is ethereal and almost alive with those who have succumbed to it. Johnston presents a peaceful beauty in the chilly suffocation of death. He then deftly exploits the emotional scars inflicted on the community to build tension. The river functions as a weapon, but who is pulling the trigger? Guns fire with a pop and the ice cracks beneath the characters’ feet. How does death impact the living? Does it motivate retribution?
Johnston deliberately leaves several plot lines unsettled. Although this is a realistic decision, it proves unsatisfying. Since finishing the book I have been looking for answers and unable to find a resolution. In hindsight this must be Johnston’s point. Life doesn’t have a conclusion, and “The Current” continues to flow even after the book is closed.