...[an] enthralling and skillful debut novel ... the book’s beauty is in its complexity, in its characters’ endless search for the truth, even once their prayers are answered ... The lost child’s return to his family, Johnston illustrates with devastating clarity, is a parent’s brightest fantasy, but it may also be a parent’s worst nightmare ... That we aren’t presented with a full picture of the crime may be frustrating, but it’s also eminently admirable — and uncomfortably revealing. It’s here that Johnston’s management of narrative distance — his choice to keep Justin safe from all interior access, giving us his family’s points of view instead — is intimately coupled with a powerful moral standard, a standard that suggests not just how readers ought to behave, but how authors ought to. In a sea of novelists praised as 'unflinching,' Johnston chooses to flinch ... What Johnston captures and examines so expertly isn’t the kind of sadistic cruelty familiar to anyone with a television, but a subtler, more quietly menacing variety, the eggshell tiptoeing, the killing kindness we unknowingly inflict when acting out of love and fear ... If there’s any crime worth a novel’s time, it’s this one ... Remember Me Like This isn’t a novel about a kidnapping. It’s not a psychological study of Stockholm syndrome or a victimology. It’s not a thriller, and it’s not even really a mystery, unless it’s an unsolved one, the exquisitely moral mystery of how we struggle to accept and love the people we call family, even when we can’t fully know them.
In his debut [Johnston] offers an achingly beautiful and psychologically insightful portrait of a family rebuilding after a traumatic event ... Johnston reveals the ways in which trauma affects individuals as well as all those around them in profound and unpredictable ways ... When Justin returns, it is a scene so devastating yet utterly surprising that only a novelist of tremendous skill could manage it without tipping into melodrama ... A lesser novelist might have treated such charged material with prurient interest and ripped-from-the-headlines drama instead of as a tender and compelling portrait of recovery ... The book is alive with the fully imagined inner lives of each of its characters. Johnston’s scenes are exquisite, the internal and external worlds kept in taut balance. That Johnston is a terrific stylist who wields lyrical language in a way that makes it seem natural and unforced makes the single false note — the clichéd metaphor of phantom-limb pain to describe Eric’s feelings when Justin is gone — that much more glaring in this fully immersive novel in which the language is luminous and the delivery almost flawless.
This beautiful and engrossing book looks at the return of a boy who was missing for four years, and the consequences for him and his family, as they try to find their way to being a family again. It is a most moving novel and the least sensational take on a socially incendiary issue ... Often in novels, a favourite character emerges where the story is truly alive when he or she is on the page. It might be that this is the reader’s favourite character but in all likelihood is the writer’s favourite and most has been invested in this characterisation. What is so thrilling and moving about this novel is that the detail is so meticulous, the emotional lives are so brilliantly captured that every character stands out; there is heart and depth on every page. Johnston’s gift is in how he makes details tell ... Johnston interweaves the community desire to celebrate with the family’s deep need to cut off the shackles of their own particular guilt. The emotional intelligence of the novel cuts deep, and reading it is a moving and ultimately uplifting experience.
... great tenderness ... This portrayal of a family struggling through what should be its happiest moment is tremendously moving, but there’s a taunting quality to Johnston’s refusal to admit any of the usual elements of the abducted-child story. The novel seems allergic to the legal details a case like this would involve. While therapists and prosecutors warn Eric and Laura not to ask their son about what happened to him, Johnston adheres to that advice, too, and so we learn almost nothing about those four missing years. Even Justin’s kidnapper remains a shadowy, off-stage figure ... Although I respect Johnston’s willingness to eschew the cheap titillation of lurid details, he’s clearly sensitive enough and talented enough to have delved into the horror of whatever Justin experienced during that crucial quarter of his life. Avoiding it entirely seems like a failure of nerve. Even Eric’s adulterous affair fades away with no more trouble than a magazine subscription expiring. With so many of the story’s inherently exciting elements ruled inadmissible, the novel risks bloating with rumination ... there’s real humanity in Johnston’s writing, and it’s heartening to spend time with these folks as they relearn how to be a family. Rendered in these compassionate, candid chapters, theirs is a struggle that speaks to those of us who have endured far less.
Bret Anthony Johnston is the stereotypical young literary author ... Remember Me Like This, then, is a stereotypical young literary author’s debut novel. It comes heavily hyped and praised, features beautiful prose and almost no plot, flirts with the trappings of a genre novel but dares not dirty its hands with the actual workings of one, and generally disappoints ... That’s the vast majority of the novel: The Campbells feel various things about Justin’s kidnapping and about his return. They feel guilty, they feel relieved, they feel nervous, and on and on for hundreds of pages ... Worse still, Johnston seems to want to have written a more dramatic novel, so he has shoehorned in thrilling-sounding scenes of conflict that end up as meaningless diversions ... the dominant experience of reading this book is that of watching an author attempt to write drama into scenes in which nothing of consequence actually happens. Johnston has tremendous facility with language, and when he imbues a scene with real conflict, I was interested and invested. But those scenes are few and far between, and without convincing drama, the story never gains traction.
The novel offers a melodrama that tries to sympathetically portray the devastating effects of loss on a family, even (or especially) when the lost are found. Johnston has a talent for drawing well-rounded characters, although verbal excess weighs down the novel’s pace. In the end, this is a convincing and uplifting portrait of a family in crisis.
Years after he disappeared, a child is restored to his family in this appealing debut ... Johnston doesn't specify the abuse; what interests him is that delicate organism, the nuclear family. The care with which he delineates the 'abiding decency' of the Campbells is admirable. What Johnston overdoes is the need of these sweet people to chastise themselves; they're great parents, and Eric was only a halfhearted adulterer. Their interior monologues slow the momentum, and it takes a bombshell...to shake things up ... A crisis erupts that is more manufactured than inevitable, shots are fired, and a body is pulled from the water (as foreshadowed in the prologue). Johnston struggles to balance the family regrouping with the external threat, but his fine detail work augurs a bright future.