4 out of 4 stars
Share This Review
There is a saying that what goes up, must come down. While this may be true in science, is it also true in literature? McDowell, a tragic novel by William H. Coles, is going to put that to the test. McDowell tells the story of Hiram McDowell, an adult man who is a husband (several times over), father, stepfather, surgeon, philanthropist, and mountain climber (which is his greatest love). He serves on the Board of Directors of International College of Surgeons in Chicago as a regent, but he wants the presidency. With the promise of a coveted position, a colleague helps McDowell get that presidency. As his personal life moves in one direction, his professional life continues to move upward. He has his dream of being president of the board at the college, he heads up a foundation that operates a medical clinic in Nepal, and he meets his own challenge of climbing every mountain over 8,000 meters in the same area. Before long, Dr. Hiram McDowell has been nominated by the President of the United States for the position of Secretary of Health and Human Services. He is vetted, goes before the Senate, and is confirmed. But in the span of three days, it all falls apart, because, at the very heart of who Dr. Hiram McDowell is, he is a narcissist.
And as science teaches us, what goes up does must come down. Through a set of circumstances put into play by that colleague who was passed over for that promised position and a reporter, who looks a little too closely into the financial affairs of Dr. McDowell and his foundation, Hiram’s professional life begins to spiral downward, just as his personal life has already done. It is discovered that a major story in his book about himself was fabricated. It was also discovered that the foundation had income and expenditures that couldn’t be accounted for – and it was speculated that McDowell was really only using the charitable donations of the foundation as a means to fund his climbing expeditions. And then, the unthinkable happens: his grandson kills 12 innocent people, including his own sister, with a shotgun, shoots his mother (Hiram’s daughter), and then tries to shoot himself. Hiram goes to the hospital to see his grandson, who dies while Hiram is in his room. It is soon discovered that he, Dr. Hiram McDowell, has helped his gravely wounded grandson into the afterlife. Hiram is arrested, convicted of 2nd-degree murder, and sent to prison for 25 years, only to escape 19 months later.
The rest of McDowell tells Hiram’s story as he lives life as a fugitive, the people he meets in this next season of life, and the stories of the people he has left behind in his wake of self-graduation and destruction. Does he make amends? Does he right any of the wrongs he left behind? Does he attempt to restore the lives damaged by his own self-propagation? These are just some of the questions that are answered through the pages of this novel. But what I found to be extremely interesting is how the author also weaves into the storyline some of the social issues that we, as a civilized society, deal with every day. Issues such as euthanasia, assisted suicide, freedom of the press, how the press can influence public opinion with not only what they write, but how they write it, and the sad reality of how innocent people suffer when we sin.
This book reveals how often times we can’t see the truth about ourselves, nor can we see the damage that can cause to others, because we refuse to see it. One person in the book said that Dr. Hiram McDowell “…was intelligent, but self-absorbed…he was so involved with his admirable image that his life became a selfish pursuit of wealth and recognition.” And from this pursuit, his daughter then “lived with deep sadness that she would always see a future ruined by her past.” This novel also looks into how we need people in our lives to be whole; it offers hope for those injured through no fault of their own; and it shows how society can be manipulated by the way the press reports a story, even if the facts are true.
Also, McDowell shows that given the time to look into oneself, even if that time is forced upon him such as it is forced on Hiram as he lives a life as a fugitive, he begins to see himself in truth. But does he ever suffer the full consequences of his actions? Does Dr. Hiram McDowell ever fully admit who he truly was before so that he can be redeemed in the end? And, does he have to make that full admittance to be able to change? Yes, there is a change in Hiram McDowell. You can see it as he interacts with Maud and Hulga and Winona as he moves around from place to place, changing identities every time, in the years spent as a fugitive. But is the question of asking “can a true narcissist can change who he is at the very core of himself?” the same question as asking if a leopard can change his spots?
McDowell is one of the best books I have read in a long time. It is truly a tragedy, which is not my favorite genre, yet I have to rate it 4 out of 4 stars. I found it fascinating how Coles is able to keep the storyline going at a good pace, while continually keeping the reader focused on what is happening at that moment in time. The characters are well developed, even in the saddened state that some may become. The chapters are short but well defined as to who is involved, what they are doing, and where they are located. It has suspense, intrigue, compassion, hate, devastation, hope, and love. For readers who like stories that delve into the heart and psyche of people, and the resulting consequences for a person’s actions, McDowell is a must read. And if what goes up does come back down, can it go back up again?
View: on Bookshelves | on Amazon | on iTunes | on Smashwords
Like tlchristmas's review? Post a comment saying so!