My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Goodreads: An intense, psychological novel about one doctor's suspense-filled quest to unlock the mind of a suspected political assassin: his twenty-year old son.
As the Chief of Rheumatology at Columbia Presbyterian, Dr. Paul Allen's specialty is diagnosing patients with conflicting symptoms, patients other doctors have given up on. He lives a contented life in Westport with his second wife and their twin sons—hard won after a failed marriage earlier in his career that produced a son named Daniel. In the harrowing opening scene of this provocative and affecting novel, Dr. Allen is home with his family when a televised news report announces that the Democratic candidate for president has been shot at a rally, and Daniel is caught on video as the assassin.
Daniel Allen has always been a good kid—a decent student, popular—but, as a child of divorce, used to shuttling back and forth between parents, he is also something of a drifter. Which may be why, at the age of nineteen, he quietly drops out of Vassar and begins an aimless journey across the United States, during which he sheds his former skin and eventually even changes his name to Carter Allen Cash.
Told alternately from the point of view of the guilt-ridden, determined father and his meandering, ruminative son, The Good Father is a powerfully emotional page-turner that keeps one guessing until the very end. This is an absorbing and honest novel about the responsibilities—and limitations—of being a parent and our capacity to provide our children with unconditional love in the face of an unthinkable situation.
My take: This was an interesting book to read. Hawley creates an ethical dilemma then provides a solid background along with snippets of history.
The protagonist is a rheumatologist which I found to be an interesting choice. His son has been charged with a murder of a presidential candidate. The man is not a detective but a doctor. Nonetheless, he is the doctor of last resort. He's the one who takes the pieces of a medical history in order to diagnose the uncommon and the weird. Like the doctor I visited two weeks ago. But I digress.
So the Paul Allen, the doctor, pieces together his son's childhood, teenagerhood, trauma, and personality. He wonders how much, if any, he is to blame, as his father. He didn't raise him after his 7th birthday. He and his first wife divorced. Paul went back East and started over again with a new family. He buried himself in his work. He's a good doctor. Maybe his absence contributed.
Hawley takes a stand that I admire but believe might cause some readers offense. What makes a good father? Hawley tackles this without apology.
Interspersed with the story itself, the doctor studies up on other high profile political assassins. He studies and extrapolates data from books and other research materials the personalities and justifications for the attempt on Reagan's life, the near attempt on Ford, the death of both Kennedy brothers and others. It is the most undiluted and factual accounts of all of the above I've read.
Dr. Allen's research takes him through conspiracy theories and political landscapes that leave questions in the wake. The conclusion is an interesting twist that may challenge the reader to examine their own thinking paradigm.
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