The Good Father by Noah Hawley – Book Review

The Good Father by Noah Hawley
Published by Doubleday, an imprint of Random House

Youthful indiscretions can cause inconveniences later in life, although hopefully they aren’t always life-destroying. For Dr. Paul Allen, his indiscretion was a particularly ill-suited marriage. He was a young and ambitious doctor, she was a flighty young woman. They might never have even stayed together, had it not been for an unintended pregnancy. Although the marriage ended, Paul would always have his son Daniel as a memento – at least during those times when he actually saw Paul. Now Paul has a new wife, two new sons, an entire new life into which Daniel barely fits. Many days Paul likely doesn’t even give his firstborn son much thought. All this changes one summer evening at a political rally in California when a promising young presidential candidate is assassinated and Daniel – now going by the name Carter Allen Cash – is accused of pulling the trigger. Suddenly, Paul finds that Daniel now consumes every moment of his life, as he tries to prove – even if only to himself – his son’s innocence.

From the first page, The Good Father sucks the reader in with each and every word. A child’s terrible act, a father’s guilt, and absolutely engrossing writing are the keys to The Good Father‘s success. Hawley’s structure was particularly interesting: in addition to Paul’s quest for the truth, we see excerpts of Daniel’s year of driving across the country before the assassination, as well as case studies of other political assassinations. As a rheumatologist, Paul is used to looking at the world as a medical problem, something with relevant case studies, and he addresses his son’s transgression in much the same way, even if he doesn’t realize it immediately:

I thought about how the clues in a human mystery are nothing like the clues in a medical mystery. With medicine you are dealing wth scientific facts. Tissue samples, blood tests. The human body is a finite entity, with a finite number of systems…. But with a human mystery, it is difficult even to decide what constitutes a fact. -p. 173

The Good Father is really about the journey of grief, guilt, and acceptance , but it also to a lesser extent explores the psyche of a young man losing his way. Both stories are resonant, and Hawley’s way with words makes this story irresistible. Highly recommended.

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3 comments to The Good Father by Noah Hawley – Book Review

  • I hadn’t heard much about this book, but your review sure does make it sound intriguing. I wonder at a man who doesn’t give his firstborn son a thought, and wonder how that factors into the man he turned out to be. Great review today. I enjoyed reading it and pondering over it.

    • He definitely cares about his son, but lives on the opposite side of the country and has a new family, so you just don’t get the impression that his now college-age son typically occupies much of his brain space.

  • This one grabbed me, too, from the very first page. I wasn’t expecting it to be this good and that’s always a nice surprise.