- It’s hard to place Noah Hawley’s book into a single category
- The Good Father is about relationships more than mystery
- A man, a father, in the midst of a normal day, has his life upended
- What does a man do when his child is accused of a horrible crime?
- Two points of view—father and son—and many stories
- An overview of other infamous real-life, high profile criminals
It’s hard to place Noah Hawley’s book into a single category
The Good Father is an extraordinary book, one not easy to review. In some ways it’s hurtful, both in the reading and the reviewing. The Good Father has many of the aspects of a mystery, in that a murder has taken place, and in the typical style of mystery writing, the reader is led this way and that, given hints broad or subtle, but doesn’t—or at least shouldn’t— know until the last moment who the murderer is.
The Good Father is about relationships more than mystery
We know early on in the story who the victim is. And we know who the accused is. But, as is generally the case in life or in fiction, a perpetrator of a crime does not exist in a vacuum. In this case, in Hawley’s story, there is a lifetime of relationships, some simple, some twisted and tangled, among the accused and so many others. What in these relationships may have in some manner led to the murder?
A man, a father, in the midst of a normal day, has his life upended
Paul Allen is a successful physician, a good man, a father of three—twin boys from his present marriage, and one grown son from his first marriage. Then, relaxing at home one evening, he sees on TV the face of a young man, standing among a screaming crowd, holding the gun that has shot a presidential candidate. It is his eldest son, Daniel, who is accused of this awful crime. And life as he has known it—and expected it to continue—is over and done with.
What does a man do when his child is accused of a horrible crime?
In the Good Father, Paul Allen reacts with unbelief and a desperate need to understand if he has in some manner had a role in creating this “monster” the media describes. How can this child he has loved despite the young man’s maladjustments, and whom he believed he knew, have done this. Here is how Noah Hawley sets up the plot for this intense, psychological tale of a father and son, each suffering in a different way the awful consequences of an unthinkable deed:
”Who was this boy . . .What made him ditch his comfortable life and embrace an act of barbarity? I have read the reports. I have watched the footage, but the answer continues to elude me. More than anything I want to know. I am his father, you see. He is my son.”
Two points of view—father and son—and many stories
Hawley has crafted a tale of two lives coming together and going apart, and reveals each life in separate, alternating chapters. The father searches through his own life, past and present, for clues that will help him learn to live with this impossibility. He searches through what he knows of his son’s life, for clues to what led him to this end. However it turns out, guilty or not, Allen needs to understand his boy’s motivations and his own part in them. Was he a good father, or did his failings contribute to this tragedy? His final answers come in a stunning conclusion.
An overview of other infamous real-life, high profile criminals
Hawley interpolates inside the main story, as if it were footage from a true crime television drama, back story from earlier days that revisits other infamous crimes and criminals, whose evil deeds have given them a permanent place near the top of the public mind, from which they can be quickly and easily summoned whenever another is added to that contemptible catalog of evil.
Noah Hawley has written a book that is hard to read, and at the same time hard to put down. I warn those of you—who as have I—have lost an adult son, be prepared for some emotional reactions. The writing is strong and direct, and Hawley pulls no punches, clearly shows the pain that parenting can bring, and makes awful deeds understandable, if not acceptable.
I recommend The Good Father.