4 out of 4 stars
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McDowell by William H Coles is a fictional book about the life of Dr. Hiram McDowell, a brilliant neurosurgeon who has many flaws in his character. In fact, I would say his negative characteristics far outweigh his positives.
The book begins with Doctor McDowell on a climbing expedition in the Himalayan mountains in Nepal, where he leaves one of his climbing partners to die on the mountainside and takes his oxygen tank for himself. This sets the tone for the rest of the first part of the book. He is distant from his children and unapologetically unfaithful to his third wife, Carole. He is portrayed as a lecher who objectifies women and lies to his son about insignificant things. He cheats a colleague, Michael O’Leary, out of a deal he made with him as a ploy to become the president of the International College of Surgeons. However, it becomes obvious as the book continues that he loves his children, Sophie, Billie, and Ann. The children struggle with their own problems: Billie with a lack of ambition who impregnates his step-sister, Ann who has a difficult marriage and even more difficult children and Sophie, who is burdened with an inconsiderate, unfaithful partner and roommate who leaves her with low self-esteem.
Sophie finds her calling in exposing the injustices done to women, and gender inequality in different societies and cultures. She goes to Asia, where she is introduced to Paige Sterling, a popular journalist assigned to cover McDowell’s story. Public perception of Dr. McDowell is that of a reputable man with many charitable works, but that changes when Ann’s son Jeremy goes on a rampage, committing multiple murders and attempting to kill himself. The last nail in Dr. McDowell's coffin comes when he is convicted of Jeremy’s murder. He breaks out of jail and goes on the run with Sterling and the police on his tail, where he meets Maud and her family. In the end, he begins to change to the opposite of what he was. He is still certain that he does not deserve his current lot and the complete metamorphosis of his character occurs when he meets Winona and Kitsy, his friends on the last leg of this story. The final part of the story demonstrates his growth as a person, contrasting the selfish man in the beginning to the kind, selfless man at the end.
Dr. McDowell is a study in contradictions. He is driven yet selfish, absorbed only in the pursuit of wealth, success and fame. At first, it is easy to dismiss Hiram as an irredeemable man; as a doctor with little to no regard for the Hippocratic oath, an unfaithful husband and distant father whose roaming ways cause pain to many. I saw him as a man with no compassion for anyone, not even his wife and children. As I continued reading, however, I started to see the positives in him. Just when I began to write him off, he would do something kind and thoughtful that would make me like him again. It is unclear in the beginning whether he is intentionally cruel or just self-serving, and that deliberate ambiguity is a negative for me because it increased confusion on his character.
This book has a lot of sensitive subjects such as murder, cruelty to animals and degradation of women, but these themes are handled perfectly. On other writers, it may have seemed too underdeveloped or too violent. Yet he strikes the perfect balance between the two, using explicit scenes in some areas and euphemism in others. He weaves the stories of each character perfectly, creating a connection between them all, showing the good, the bad and the grey areas. He incorporates themes that are an important part of today’s society, such as greed, poverty, gender inequality, the justice system, gun violence and the police force among others.
The author also takes us deep into the world of medicine, where this story is based. He makes the unfamiliar seem real and simple to readers with no experience in the field such as myself. He reveals the good in even the worst of us, the humanity that soils even the best of us and the web that connects so many individuals and the impact each of them has on the lives of others. For all the reasons above, I rate this book 4 out of 4 stars.
This was a very enjoyable read for me. I do wish he had lingered on some topics, heightened the tension a little more, but it is still a very well written book. This book is a great choice for any readers interested in a medical drama that can be read over the span of several days. This book is perfect to unwind after a long day.
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