Read an Excerpt for Tim Johnston’s THE CURRENT
So excited to share an excerpt of Tim Johnston’s THE CURRENT! His stunning second novel, further pushes the boundaries of his considerable literary gifts with a gripping and heartbreaking story of small town crime, of fathers and daughters, and of the complexity and fragility of our lives.
READ AN EXCERT
"What the f*ck,” Caroline says. "Road trip."
BECAUSE THE TRUTH is she's glad for the excuse to get away, she says. If Audrey was just homesick for her pet chicken she'd still be on board, so will she please not sit there being so darn grateful the whole way?
They've got their coffees, and the RAV4 is climbing the eastern coast of Arkansas, up the 55 North toward Missouri. A gusty but otherwise fine day for driving.
Audrey is silent awhile and then says, "Who would have a pet chicken?" 'Tm just saying."
"What would you even do with it?"
Caroline sighs. When asked by housing why she wanted a new roommate after their first semester, Caroline wrote: "Irreconcilable species." No idea what Audrey wrote.
"Is it Troy?" Audrey says. "Is what Troy?"
"Why you're glad to get away."
Caroline looks over, looks back to the road. "It could be a lot of things, Audrey. I might be having a psychological crisis. I might've decided college is a waste of time and money. I might be sleeping with my professor. I might've decided life is too f*cking short. I might-"
"Which one?" "What?'' "Callaway?"
"What? No. Seriously?" "Buford?"
"Buford? He's like, a hundred years old and smells like old bedsheets." "Nice eyes, though."
"Nice eyes. Jesus, Audrey, I am not sleeping with my professor, I was just making a point. I was just posing hypotheticals-remember those? Remember when we talked about those?"
"Yes. But it just stuck out, that one."
"Well"-pushing out the flat of her palm-"stick it back in." "All right. Sorry."
"You don't have to apologize,” Caroline says, Ricking hair out of her eyes.
Sliding a glance at Audrey, who sips at her coffee.
"Is that how you see me?" she says. "Someone who would sleep with her professor?"
"No. I never thought about it until you mentioned it." "But you went there pretty quickly."
Audrey holds her coffee in midair. Then sips, and says, "Not because I think of you like that, though. But because you always surprise me, Caroline. You always do. I count on you surprising me. That's all."
The girls face forward. The fields sweeping by, unrolling like great corduoy rugs, brown and white, the white not cotton now but lines of ice from the storm caught in the furrows. Above them bends the deep and empty sky. Audrey reaches to touch the colorful loops of beads that hang from the rearview mirror. The beads click when they get swinging, and in the thick of them, like a little thing nested there, is a white rabbit's foot, stained in shifting spots of colored light. The RAV4 was a gift from Caroline's father, the rabbit's foot a gift from her brother. Not so lucky for the rabbit, said Caroline's father. And: A moving vehicle is no place for luck, daughter. May this vehicle be safeguarded by intelligence, by great care and caution, and not the amputated paw of a rodent.
"So what is it, then?" Audrey says, and Caroline swipes at her eye-a single tear, where did that come from?
"Let's just say it includes but is not strictly about Troy,” she says, and neither girl says another word for a mile, two miles. Then Audrey says, "I'm sorry, Caroline,” and Caroline says, "Screw it. Screw him. Are we going to listen to these tunes or what?"
THEY ARE JUST a few miles into Missouri when the first text comes, a two-note chime, and Caroline's heart jumps to it like a trained animal.
But she defies the chime, her heart's response to it. Eyes on the road, hands at ten and two. They've been listening to an old Radiohead CD-the RAV4 is pre-Bluetooth by, like, one year-each in her separate thoughts, and Caroline waits for the end of the song before she fishes up the phone from her tote bag, reads the message, places the phone in her lap and takes the wheel two-handed again. Now it begins.
The phone chimes and vibrates on her upper thigh, sending its hum, its message, deep. The times when he would text at night and she would hold it there, waiting, her heartbeat beneath it, in her belly, everywhere . . .
A full minute passes without a third text and she lifts the phone, and the car drifts and she corrects with a jerk. She holds the phone at the crown of the wheel, as if she's going to text back, and Audrey, reaching, says, "Here, let me,” and takes the phone from her. "What do you want to say?"
The first yellow speech balloon reads: WTF, C? Where r u? The second reads: U don't know what u think u know. In class, will call u in I hr.
Caroline tosses her hair and says, "Tell him, 'You don't know what I know.
Don't call me, I'm driving."'
Audrey thumbs it in and sends the message and places the phone in her own lap, and Caroline eyes the phone there, her phone, in a lap not hers, before looking away.
She turns up the music and taps at the wheel and bobs her head to the beat, but it's no use; it's as if there's a third person in the cab now, as if they've picked up a hitchhiker. They wait to see what he'll say.
The phone chimes and vibrates on Audrey's thigh. She reads aloud: '"Please please be cool, C '- C as in the letter C:' Audrey says. '"Gotta talk to you."'
"Tell him, 'Talk to Phil," Caroline says. "Tell him, 'Ask Phil how he liked it this a.m."'
Audrey looks over. "Liked what?" "Just type it."
She types and sends the message, and Caroline tells her what happened with Phil, and Audrey sits holding the phone. Silent for a long while.
"What did it feel like?" she says at last, and Caroline gives her a look. "What do you think it felt like?"
"I mean,” Audrey says, "in that context. The fact that it was Phil."
Caroline sputters her lips and turns back to the road. "The usual, Audrey.
Nothing to write home about."
The sun is going down; the swaying beads catch its light and throw prisms on the girls' legs. Music pulses in the speakers.
"Phil,” Audrey says after a while, as if to herself. "I hope you washed your hand."
And Caroline laughs then, deeply and truly, and the laugh releases the Georgia in her chest like walking into her memaw's house, like the drug-strong smell of hot pecan pie, and she says in the voice of home, "Oh, Audrey, some times I just love you."
And Audrey-who loves this voice, who has always loved this voice-says, "I know. It's the same with me."
THEY DRIVE OUT of day into night, out of cotton country into wheat and then into corn, all such fields indistinguishable in the dead of winter, all brown and empty, increasingly drifted in dunes of snow. Off to their right some where the wide Mississippi slugs along through its turnings, back the way they've come, south as the girls drive north. The girls talking and talking until, in the midst of a lull, Audrey works her head into a pillow stuffed up against the passenger window and sleeps.
Caroline drives on, alone now and aware of the car around her-the road beneath it, the four small dashes of rubber chat connect car to road-in a way she hadn't been just a moment before, and soon enough she puts it together: chat chis awareness, this alertness, comes with the surrendering of the same thing in her passenger, and that chis is an intimacy, this exchange, modern in its specifics and yet ancient to the species, old as blood: the deep, unthinking trust of children who slept in open caves, who sleep now in cars piloted by their parents flying down deadly highways; the fierce tenderness of responsibility that pounds in the chests of parents, the father or mother at the wheel . . . and following chis current of thought Caroline doesn't chink of Troy for miles, and then she realizes she hasn't thought of Troy for miles and it's all over-he's back. Those eyes. Those hands. The smell of that chest.
She would like to let Audrey sleep but they need gas, and ten miles later she cakes the exit and pulls into the station, and Audrey raises her head, then pushes the black knit cap up from her eyes.
"Where are we?"
"We're not in Kansas anymore ." "We were never in Kansas."
"I know, Audrey."
In the dead of winter, outside a small Minnesota town, state troopers pull two young women and their car from the icy Black Root River. One is found downriver, drowned, while the other is found at the scene—half frozen but alive.
What happened was no accident, and news of the crime awakens the community’s memories of another young woman who lost her life in the same river ten years earlier, and whose killer may still live among them.
Determined to find answers, the surviving young woman soon realizes that she’s connected to the earlier unsolved case by more than just a river, and the deeper she plunges into her own investigation, the closer she comes to dangerous truths, and to the violence that simmers just below the surface of her hometown.
Grief, suspicion, the innocent and the guilty—all stir to life in this cold northern town where a young woman can come home, but still not be safe. Brilliantly plotted and unrelentingly propulsive, The Current is a beautifully realized story about the fragility of life, the power of the past, and the need, always, to fight back.
About the Author: Tim Johnston's newest novel is THE CURRENT (2019, Algonquin). He is also the author of the New York Time's bestselling novel DESCENT (2015, Algonquin), the story collection IRISH GIRL (2009, UNT Press), and the YA novel NEVER SO GREEN (2002, Farrar, Straus & Giroux). A New York Times, USA Today, and Indie National bestseller, DESCENT has been published internationally and optioned for film. The stories of IRISH GIRL have won an O. Henry Prize, the New Letters Award for Writers, and the Gival Press Short Story Award, while the collection itself won the 2009 Katherine Anne Porter Prize in Short Fiction. Tim holds degrees from the University of Iowa and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and was a carpenter for most of his adult life. He was the 2015 Iowa Author, and currently lives in Iowa City, Iowa.
Hardcover: 416 pages
Publisher: Algonquin Books (January 22, 2019)
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