1 out of 4 stars
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McDowell, by William H. Coles, gives us an overview of a successful surgeon’s life, his accomplishments, his fall from grace, and subsequent recreation of himself. His fall occurred when he performed a mercy killing on his own grandson. A court convicted McDowell of murder. He escapes prison. McDowell jumps from place to place, staying one step ahead of the authorities and writes a memoir about his pre-prison life and explaining to the world how he had been misunderstood. While on the run, he finds a woman who points out that his attitude of everyone being against him was one of his most significant personal issues; he needed to do some deep introspection, needed to understand how other people worked, and see the world through their eyes, in short, he needed to learn compassion. Those things would make the story he wished to tell, more compelling.
I rate this story 1 out of 4. McDowell suffers a severe lack of emotional engagement, much like the main character in the beginning. Whereas the McDowell, the character, grows and changes into a more rounded individual by the end of the book, McDowell, the book, remains flat to the end. It seems every time we reach a point where emotion should be free-flowing, we hit a barrier and bounce off in a new direction. Instead of showing emotion and its effects, we are merely told; usually in summaries how someone feels, and this at the beginning or end of chapters.
This made the story feel flat, unengaged, and unappealing. McDowell only skims the surface of life without ever reaching down into its guts, emotions, or details. For example, McDowell’s escape from prison, a moment a reader would have every right to expect planning, excitement, fear, and exhilaration upon success is relegated to this line: “He escaped a year and seven months into his sentence, a few weeks after he was assigned to work in the prison infirmary.” That’s it. Nothing more. The next sentence has him walking down a road. The previous sentence tells of how McDowell felt sorry for himself and wanted to escape the prison he thought he did not deserve to be trapped in.
Most of this story consists of dialogue, much of it dry and emotionless, in places, unrealistic. Time markers, the things that give us a sense of flow, feel out of place, causing the story’s timeline to seem disjointed. The author has a habit of bringing in new characters with no warning and little explanation. As a reader, I struggled to determine who these new characters were and what importance they had.
Another shortfall is in the choice of what to show in detail. At the beginning of many chapters, the reader is overwhelmed with the intricate detail of how someone is dressed, yet, in situations where detail would have helped the reader understand what was happening, it is lacking or at best deficient.
Characterization is often weak and sometimes inconsistent. The author makes a point to portray Sophie, McDowell’s daughter, as a lesbian, and yet by the end of the book, she has fallen in love with a man. This is not necessarily an issue and had the author shown how changes occurred in her attitude, personal values, and sexual preferences it would have given some life to this story.
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