Monday, April 2, 2012

Book Review: "The Good Father" by Noah Hawley

The flap inside the front cover of Noah Hawley's The Good Father makes it sound like it would be a story of suspense. While eating dinner one night with his family, a man catches a news item of the shooting of a presidential candidate. He realizes that the suspect is his oldest son and begins a search to find out everything he can about his son's whereabouts, hoping to prove his innocence.

All that does happen. However, this book is deeper than a traditional suspense novel. This is more a book about a father coming to understand his son, and the son coming to understand himself. It's really two stories: that of Paul Allen, renowned doctor, divorced from his oldest son's mother, nearly estranged from that son; and that of Daniel, the twenty-year-old college dropout who's been roaming the country, trying to figure out what he wants from life.

Author Hawley explores how a good kid could become an assassin. Danny has always been more of a loner, but he was never violent. What might cause him to decide to kill the frontrunner in the presidential candidate race? Why did Sirhan Sirhan kill Robert Kennedy? How about John Hinkely, shooting Ronald Reagan to impress young actress Jodi Foster? Is Danny a monster like them? What are the similarities and what are the differences?

Hawley also wants to know how a parent would process this idea of having a child who becomes a murderer. It's not a spoiler to say that Daniel is convicted and sentenced to death. The suspense comes in finding out how he got to that point and how his father tries to deal with this new reality. How far would a father go to save his son?

While reading, I was reminded of Defending Jacob (see my review). Both stories are about sons who are accused of an awful crime and their fathers who would do anything to save them. While Defending Jacob is more about the court system, it also includes the affects of the trial on the family. The father also has to come to terms with what his son may have done. It's the more suspenseful of the two books, but both have their merits. I would say, if you can only read one of them, pick up Defending Jacob if you prefer straight suspense (but anticipate some deeper truths also), and read The Good Father if you like stories that have more of a psychological exploration element. If you have a little more time and can squeeze in a second book, read them both.

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