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Monday, February 06, 2012

The Good Father


Political assassinations are such horrifying events that we search for ways to explain them to ourselves.  We hope that the murderer is insane or the member of some extremist group so far on the fringe that he and others like him are exceptionally weird - and rare.  The last thing we want to believe is that these killers can spring from average families that include loving brothers and sisters, or that their parents are as surprised by their sons’ crimes as the rest of us.  A normal person should just not be capable of such a crime.  What few of us ever consider is the effect, both long and short term, this kind of crime has on the killer’s parents.  Dr. Paul Allen, the main character of Noah Hawley’s The Good Father, is one of those parents.

Daniel Allen’s parents divorced when he was seven years old. After the divorce, Dr. Allen moved from Los Angeles to New York to begin his new medical practice.  There he remarried, fathered two young sons Daniel barely knows, and became one of New York’s most prominent physicians.  In the meantime, Daniel was growing up under the care of a woman who could hardly care for herself, much less him.  In his teens, Daniel would move to New York to live with his father’s second family but he would never feel that he belonged there. 

The country is stunned when the man who seems destined to be the next president of the United States is gunned down at a Los Angeles political event.  The Paul Allen family receives an even greater shock when, just minutes later, they see on television that 20-year-old Daniel is believed to be the shooter.  Suddenly, the FBI is at Paul’s front door and television news reporters are right behind the agents.  This marks the beginning of Paul Allen’s quest to prove his son’s innocence, a journey that will see him put his new marriage at risk, consider the most outlandish conspiracy theories imaginable, spend thousands of dollars, and relocate his family to rural Colorado in search of a place to live in peace.

Noah Hawley
The Good Family is a book about obsession, rationalization, and false hope.  It is a book about blind love and parental guilt, but it touches on broader themes such as how one instant can forever change individual lives and the direction of an entire country.  The Good Family is about choices – those made and those not made. 

All of these are worthy themes for a book to tackle, but the story itself is surprisingly lifeless considering the depth of emotions Paul Allen experiences.  Paul is the only fully developed character in the book, causing all the rest, even Daniel, to feel a bit flat in comparison.  Too, the numerous case studies of famous real life assassinations, within which Paul tries to find some similarity between those assassins and his son, give the book a disjointed feel.  There are also the way too many reminders that Paul is taking a “scientific approach” to proving his son’s innocence, the same approach he uses in his practice to diagnose a mysterious illness. After the third or fourth reminder, I grew bored with the repetition and began to question the author’s faith in his readers’ memories.  This is a case of a plot and message being better than their execution.

Rated at: 3.0
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