4 out of 4 stars
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Hiram McDowell is a true renaissance man. He is a surgeon, accomplished mountain climber, musician, philanthropist, and art critic. He is also a womanizer, back stabber, and absentee father, with questionable medical ethics. McDowell, by William H. Coles, opens with Hiram summiting Mt Everest and then leaving his climbing partner to die on the mountain. The story starts dramatically and continues, as such, through the next 300 pages to tell the tale of Hiram and his complicated life. He marries three times and is father to three children; Ann from his first marriage and Sophie and Billie from his second. There are two step daughters, as well, from his brief third marriage. The story also closely follows the lives of his three biological children as we watch them grow from teenagers into adulthood.
The first half of McDowell, much like an ascension up a mountain, follows the growing successful career of Hiram as he manipulates his colleagues in order to achieve his ambitious goals. While his intentions of obtaining and fighting for universal health care are noble, his pursuit as Regent to the board of directors of the International College of Surgeons leaves a determined enemy in its wake. The hospital he is responsible for building in Nepal is another apparent example of his selfless dedication, but it also provides him the ability to pursue his love of mountain climbing. Hiram’s successful career eventually leads him to being nominated by the President for Secretary for Health and Human Services. Then the descent down the mountain begins, and the second half of the novel unfolds.
Sophie is also a central character in this story, as the favorite child of Hiram. We follow her through her first true friendship with Ivana and her sudden death, her abusive relationship with June, and her choice of a career in photography. She takes on a project of recording the plight of struggling foreign women through photographs with Billie as her assistant. Sophie is also instrumental in helping her sister, Ann, survive after a tragedy destroys her family. This tragedy is a pivotal part of the story in that it is, in part, responsible for the turn of events that Hiram’s life takes. Eventually Sophie is paired with an aging news reporter, Paige Sterling, and tasked with bringing to light the true story of her father.
This book is without a doubt a 4 out of 4. It is very well written, packed with engaging characters, thought provoking, and intelligent. I appreciated the short, italicized inserts which kept the story moving without over explaining. The characters were very real and each was unique with their own personalities and character traits that were well explored. All the characters, no matter how minor, were well defined and had real depth to them. I found myself connecting and caring about each of them. There was so much happening in this book, that I found myself often curious about the author, Mr. Coles. I came to believe that he must he a mountain climbing, survivalist, musician, world traveling, doctor to have composed such a believable and entertaining story. There was nothing that I did not like about this story, with one minor exception. I thought that the cover of the book did not do it justice and I would have been disappointed if I had not read this book based on my first impression. This book was also professionally edited which made it a pleasure to read, with one odd exception. The last paragraph on page 310 had some spacing errors.
McDowell is so many stories in one book, but it can basically be divided into two parts; before and after a major critical decision that alters Hiram’s life and lifestyle. Everything that he was and owned is lost in that 3-minute action. The first part of the story tells us about a man with great physical wealth and power, but questionable emotional and ethical qualities. The second half is very much the opposite. While he loses all his physical comforts, power, and admiration of most of his peers, emotionally he grows tenfold. Slowly, he learns to if not accept, at least acknowledge, the responsibility he’s had in getting into the situation in which he now exists. His outlook on life changes along with the way he sees and interacts with people, primarily women. While on the run, Hiram learns to love, trust, and respect the few women he eventually befriends and is loved in return. It is only through his loss of everything, that he becomes the person he should be.
I would recommend this book to adult, mature readers. While there is bad language and some strong sexual content, it is not excessive and probably not offensive to most. I think it would appeal to both men and women because of its broad band of topics; relationships, strenuous physical challenges, travel, music, photography, finance, medicine, homelessness and art.
When I read a book and ultimately finish and analyze it, one of my major goals is to have learned from the experience. Was I entertained? Did I walk away with knowledge of a subject area to which I was unfamiliar? Did I experience any emotional growth? Could I learn and improve something about myself after reading this book? Did it give me a new perspective about a subject area and was it interesting? Being able to satisfy these criteria is what defines a very good book. McDowell is a very good book.
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