The Good Father
A Novel by Noah Hawley
2012 / 320 Pages
The Setup: Noah Hawley’s The Good Father is an intense, psychological novel about one doctor’s suspense-filled quest to unlock the mind of a suspected political assassin: his twenty-year old son.
As the Chief of Rheumatology at Columbia Presbyterian, Dr. Paul Allen’s specialty is diagnosing patients with conflicting symptoms, patients other doctors have given up on. He lives a contented life in Westport with his second wife and their twin sons–hard won after a failed marriage earlier in his career that produced a son named Daniel. In the harrowing opening scene of this provocative and affecting novel, Dr. Allen is home with his family when a televised news report announces that the Democratic candidate for president has been shot at a rally, and Daniel is caught on video as the assassin.
Daniel Allen has always been a good kid–a decent student, popular–but, as a child of divorce, used to shuttling back and forth between parents, he is also something of a drifter. Which may be why, at the age of nineteen, he quietly drops out of Vassar and begins an aimless journey across the United States, during which he sheds his former skin and eventually even changes his name to Carter Allen Cash.
Told alternately from the point of view of the guilt-ridden, determined father and his meandering, ruminative son, The Good Father is a powerfully emotional page-turner that keeps one guessing until the very end. This is an absorbing and honest novel about the responsibilities–and limitations–of being a parent and our capacity to provide our children with unconditional love in the face of an unthinkable situation. (From the publisher)
Who is to blame when a child or a young adult commits a heinous act of violence? Was the individual predisposed to lash out as a result of their hard coded DNA or were they instead a product of their environment and upbringing? This ageless debate of nature vs. nurture takes center stage in Noah Hawley’s latest offering, The Good Father.
Dr. Paul Allen is a highly successful rheumatologist who lives on the east coast with his second wife and their young twin boys. Paul also has a twenty year old son Daniel from his first marriage that grew up in the care of his ex-wife on the west coast. Paul didn’t necessarily abandon the child, but neither was he a major influence or presence during the boy’s formative years. Shuttled back and forth between his parents by way of being forced to fly cross country by himself on airplanes throughout his youth, Daniel struggles to form lasting attachments of any kind and eventually grows up to be a loner. Neither his mother Ellen, nor Paul see anything distressing in this behavior until it’s much too late.
After getting accepted to, and spending a semester and a half at Vassar college, Daniel drops out of school without telling a soul and begins living a nomadic lifestyle, travelling the United States in his car, drifting from state to state, never staying put in one place for longer than a few months. One evening Paul is enjoying dinner with his family when a news report comes across the television which states that his oldest child has just assassinated the Democratic Party’s most likely candidate for the upcoming presidential election, a senator from Montana named Jay Seagram.
Lost in a whirlwind of emotion and confusion, Paul struggles to process what he’s being told. He begins to look back over Daniel’s life in an effort to ascertain if it was truly possible for his son to have committed such an unforgivable act. Was Paul a bad father? Did he overlook some glaringly obvious warning signs? Maybe Daniel was brainwashed to commit the act. Maybe he didn’t even fire the gun that shot and killed Seagram. He oldest child could instead be at the heart of a political conspiracy rivaling that of Sirhan Sirhan and Lee Harvey Oswald.
As Daniel is whisked away to be held captive an undisclosed location Paul begins his own investigation into the murder and is shocked by both the inconsistencies and the coincidences he uncovers. Refusing to believe that his son could be capable of such an act and determined to clear his name, Paul presses forward, even as his investigation starts to put strain on his family life.
The Good Father is a highly charged, fascinating page turner that takes a look not only at the nature vs. nurture debate, but also at conspiracy theories throughout American history as one father attempts to discover the truth about his son, but perhaps more importantly, about himself.
Thankfully there’s a definitive answer provided surrounding the events of the assassination, but when it comes to everything else the reader is forced to reach their own conclusions based on primarily on the information that has been provided to them from Paul’s present day perspective and Daniel’s flashback sequences.
Is Paul a good father? Is he even a good person? Can he keep it together in order to protect his wife and sons or will solving the mystery behind Daniel’s supposed act of terror ultimately destroy his life as well? Hawley manages to keep the reader enthralled, revealing new tantalizing tidbits as he moves them ever closer to the novel’s stunning final moments.