4 out of 4 stars
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McDowell by William H. Coles is a fiction story fraught with every conceivable emotion. It evoked strong emotion from me at every turn: I laughed, I rolled my eyes, I waxed philosophical, and I cried...sometimes simultaneously!
The story’s central character is Hiram McDowell. A complex man who, throughout the twisting and turning plot, seems to be a worse person when at his wealthiest and a far more redeeming one when at his poorest. The heart of the story is a close analysis of human nature and redemption.
The story is divided into two parts: the first focusing on this wealthier time in Hiram’s life and the second on the poorer. In the former part, he is a renowned surgeon who runs a hospital in Nepal, is President of the International College of Surgeons, and nominated to be the United States Secretary of Health. He is also, bluntly put, a womanizer and appears to lack respect for the institution of marriage. Spending a great deal of time in Nepal climbing mountains, he seems to do what he pleases with little regard for the feelings of others. While not estranged, his relationships with his adult children are definitely not warm or close. Sophie is a photographer whose work increasingly involves Hiram’s life in interesting ways. Ann and her family play a central role in Hiram’s future as his decisions, mingled with tragedy, alter their lives permanently. His youngest son, Billie, stays involved in Hiram’s life through work and a complicated family circumstance. Hiram is generally more cold and calculating in this first part, alienating friends and family in his quest for money and power.
In the second and latter part of the story however, Hiram finds himself in a diametrically opposing set of life circumstances as compared to the first. As a direct consequence of a series of terrible choices, he is stripped of all the material luxuries his previous life offered. This new life, while often very challenging and lonesome, eventually helps Hiram realize not only what really matters in life, but perhaps how to find redemption despite being guilty of terrible things.
The story begs the reader to become philosophical and think critically about human nature. It left me wondering whether we are all deserving of being redeemed, and if not, where the line might be drawn. It also left me thinking about love and if it’s ever too late to find the true and lasting kind. For Hiram, the crux of these issues has to do with whether or not he can not only recognize and accept that his past actions were wrong, but also to then seek forgiveness. In this second part of the story, Hiram meets many new people who do not know his past and in various ways, are able to therefore help him see perspectives he hadn’t previously. It is through these perspectives that he is able to glean what is truly important to him.
This complex and moving fiction story will definitely beg the reader to marvel at the human capacity to survive despite extremely challenging odds. It also does a great job of highlighting the drastic impact that people’s choices can have on their relationships. Additionally, I found the sort of staccato writing style a very effective tool for describing scenes. I found myself really feeling along with the characters and seeing the scenes. A provocative and dark current ran throughout, but the writing style kept it strongly afloat for me, keeping me engaged and very moved.
I resoundingly give this book 4 out of 4 stars and highly recommend it to many readers, but perhaps especially lovers of crime and mystery stories, as well as those who value analyzing human nature in fiction. Though quite mild, it’s noteworthy to mention for sensitive readers that a few scenes have sexual content. Additionally, McDowell was clearly professionally edited and I found no mistakes worth noting. This book is a great one for discussion!
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