4 out of 4 stars
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In his "Critique of Pure Reason," Kant says, "All our knowledge begins with the senses, proceeds then to the understanding, and ends with reason." In the second half of McDowell by William H. Coles, the protagonist tries to buy Kant's work at a bookstore, but the proprietor refuses to sell it to him because, according to her, he is not ready. I believe this is the premise of McDowell. It's a man's journey to reason from a life of carnal self-indulgence to a deeper spiritual understanding of the purpose of life.
This is the third book by Coles that I have had the pleasure of reading, and I hope to read more. When you read one of Coles' books, you often find yourself turning the pages back to previous chapters as the metaphorical references start to reveal themselves. Coles' books are not to be read literally, but rather as a deliberation on the struggles and triumphs of the human mind.
In the character of McDowell, you find a carnal, misogynistic egocentric consumed with his need for personal-gratification and recognition. He finds the success he craves in his career, humanitarian work, and as an expert mountaineer. While the media fawn over his accomplishments, his family suffers from neglect and apathy. When a series of dubious personal choices result in serious legal ramifications, McDowell decides to abscond from the law. With the media now pursuing him, McDowell finds shelter and friendship with different individuals, each of whom influences him in profound ways. The result is a return to reason, much like Kant had philosophized about in the book McDowell was not allowed to buy.
Although McDowell is the protagonist of the story, like most of Coles' books, the story actually revolves around the supporting characters who shape his life. I found Maud, the bookstore owner, to be the most interesting character in the book. She appears - almost as a guiding angel - at a time when McDowell is desperately in need of guidance. Her wisdom - understanding that he is not yet ready to consider categorical imperatives - leads to deep conversations that eventually lead to his conversion.
Overall, McDowell is an enjoyable, thought-provoking, well-edited read and I enjoyed it immensely. While McDowell is by no means a spiritual book, it does have a spiritual component. It is a book about healing, redemption, and restoration. That said, the book does contain a fair amount of sex and language and is not for younger readers. The reader should also be warned that the book contains adult themes such as misogyny, adultery, and euthanasia, which while relevant to the story, might be upsetting to some readers. I rate it 4 out of 4 stars.
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