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I picked up 'The Good Father' knowing nothing about it except for the sound bites that were written on the front cover; "Enthralling ... a masterpiece ... superbly written " - critics from the Times to the Daily Mail seemed to universally believe that this book is set to become a new classic. I started reading it with great anticipation, but soon found my attention wandering, dragged down by the introspective meanderings of the central character and the distant American cultural history that failed to strike a chord.
~~ Plot ~~
Paul Allen is a familiar stereotype of the successful American dad; Head of Rheumatology at a large hospital, he leads a safe and happy life with his second wife and twin boys. He has a civilised relationship with his first wife and over the years has played the good father as he shared the care of his firstborn son Daniel, who is now 20.
One evening the family idyll is shattered by a news report; Jay Seagram, the popular presidential candidate has been shot and killed by a young man at a rally. The country is devastated, but none so shocked as Paul and his family when they discover that the young man accused of the assassination is Paul's own son Daniel.
Thus begins the novel, and a tortuous search by Paul to find the truth about his son. Did Daniel actually pull the trigger? Was he the instrument of some secret political organisation ? Or is he merely a violent and disturbed young man ? Paul's journey to find the truth will test every relationship to the limit as he looks into the past and the future to find his answers.
~~ Opinion ~~
My first thought on reading this was that it is yet another adaptation of 'We Need to Talk About Kevin'. It is the natural instinct of any parent at any child's misbehaviour to look inwards and to ask, what did I do wrong? The character of Paul very much follows this mould, examining any mistake, inattention and cruelty in the past and scrutinising it for a clue to the actions of the present. Unfortunately 'The Good Father' has nowhere near the emotional grip or pace of Lionel Shriver's book, but does have numerous frustrations.
The character of Paul is well drawn and I was interested to go with him on his journey to unravel the web of his past marriage and career as he tries to find a meaning to the terrible events. The way he tells the story is factual but engaging - his medical background encourages him to analyse each situation as if he was diagnosing a medical condition, trying to take the emotion out of the decision and looking at the hard facts with dispassion. I liked this unusual approach as it did give the story some depth and a bit of a unique twist. However, I found the other characters weak and without any real substance, especially those of Fran, the long suffering second wife, and Ellen the first wife, who presumably would have been just as emotionally involved and distraught as Paul.
For me, the story starts to meander when Paul intersperses Daniel's childhood memories with lengthy dissections of other famous murders. He gives the blow by blow account of Hinckley's attempted assassination of Jimmy Carter, Timothy McVeigh's attempt to kill many in the Oklahoma City Bombing, and several more. Most of these stories meant little to me as they are not part of my cultural history - and I felt that they only served to pad out the narrative rather than give any real insight into the crime.
My main frustration was an unavoidable plot device; the fact that Daniel maintains an enigmatic silence about his crime and refuses to give any indication about whether he pulled the trigger or not. Equally, the main character Paul seems unable to formulate the question. I found this intensely annoying - any normal father would automatically demand the answer as soon as they met their son and plead for some kind of explanation. Instead Paul and Daniel sit in a rather strained and strange silence.
~~ Conclusion ~~
I had high hopes for this book, but my attention started to wander after the first few chapters and I struggled through the last half completely. I thought it was a little to clinical, too analytic and not really emotional enough to grip the reader. It was a frustrating and ultimately an unenjoyable read.
Noah Hawley is an American author who is also a screenwriter, producer and composer. He may be most famous for writing and producing the American TV series Bones, or writing the screenplay for the film Lies and Alibis. This is his fourth novel.
My copy of The Good Father was published by Hodder and Stoughton in 2013. It has 384 pages