We are pleased to announce the publication of Descent, a new novel by Tim Johnston, assistant professor in the Department of English at the University of Memphis, by Algonquin Press. Professor Johnston’s novel has received rave reviews from several national sources, including The Washington Post, Publisher’s Weekly, and NPR. Descent has also been named one of the “ten titles to pick up now” by Oprah Winfrey’s O magazine.
Trying to summarize Descent is difficult because it is so much more than the sum of its parts. The Minneapolis Star Tribune describes it as “an incredibly powerful, richly atmospheric and emotionally complicated novel about the way a family can fall apart, and be put back together again.” Simply put, it is a thrilling and beautifully written novel about a family’s seemingly-innocuous vacation in the Rocky Mountains that quickly becomes terrifying when the teenaged children go for an early-morning run and the older daughter disappears.
This novel is more than just a thriller, the reviewers wax poetic about its style and characterization. The Washington Post writes that “Johnston’s prose is lyrical, even poetic, to a degree rarely found in fiction, literary or otherwise” and that “the story unfolds brilliantly, always surprisingly, but the glory of Descent lies not in its plot but in the quality of the writing. The magic of his prose equals the horror of Johnston’s story; each somehow enhances the other.” The review ends on a resoundingly positive note: “The question is whether you value gorgeous prose and can accept a story as painful as it is beautiful. If you do and you can, read this astonishing novel. It’s the best of both worlds.”
Publisher’s Weekly shares a similar opinion, writing that Johnston “has a poet’s eye for the majestic and forbidding nature of the Rockies, and a sociologist’s understanding of how people act under pressure. … Combining domestic drama with wilderness adventure, Johnston has created a hybrid novel that is as emotionally satisfying as it is viscerally exciting.” An NPR reviewer claims, “My heart’s still pounding even now as I’m trying to describe the novel, recalling just about every turn and twist of the action, remembering how engaged I was, and how surprised I felt at just how far Johnston could wander from the main premise and still keep me with him.”
These glowing reviews confirm what we already knew when Johnston joined the Department of English at the University of Memphis in 2013: he’s a talented writer. His previous publications include the story collection Irish Girl, and the Young Adult novel Never So Green, as well as a stories in various literary magazines, including New England Review, New Letters, The Iowa Review, The Missouri Review, Double Take, Best Life Magazine, and Narrative Magazine. Irish Girl has been awarded a number of prizes, including an O. Henry Prize, the New Letters Award for Writers, and the Gival Press Short Story Award, and the Katherine Anne Porter Prize in Short Fiction. If that is not enough, in 2005 the title story, “Irish Girl,” was included in the David Sedaris anthology of favorites, Children Playing Before a Statue of Hercules. Johnston also holds degrees from the University of Iowa and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. In 2011-12 he was the Jenny McKean Moore Writer-in-Washington Fellow at George Washington University.
On top of everything else, Johnston is a great teacher and is very popular with students. He was also involved in the creation of the University’s Communication and Writing Center (commonly called the CWC) and is currently the editor of The Pinch, the University’s award-winning literary journal.
The Marcus Orr Center for the Humanities, in conjunction with the Department of English, will be hosting a reading by Tim Johnston on Thursday, February 19 on the University of Memphis campus, in the University Center’s Bluff Room (UC 304). There will be lots of festivities including: a reception starting at 5:30pm, a reading at 6:00p, followed by a Q&A session and a book signing. Representatives from the university bookstore will be there to sell copies both of Descent and of some of Tim’s earlier publications. Everyone is welcomed and encouraged to attend, both within the University community and the general public. To find out more, watch for details on the MOCH website, http://www.memphis.edu/moch/index.htm, and the English Department’s Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/UOfMemphisDepartmentOfEnglish.
Pick up a copy of Descent today at one of the local bookstores and then join us for the festivities in February!