4 out of 4 stars
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William H. Coles’ novel, McDowell, is a character-based fiction about one man’s journey of self-discovery. Coles offers up a stirring novel about human nature and morality. This was an unforgettable novel and one that makes the reader think long after the last page has been read.
The novel opens in 1981 where we see Hiram McDowell scaling the peaks of the Himalayas. The reader gets a glimpse into the dark side of his character during this initial scene between him and his climbing partner. Later, we see McDowell as an accomplished surgeon who has risen through the ranks in his career. He has a complicated relationship with his three adult children: Ann, Sophie, and Billie. He is perceived as a charitable man but comes under intense scrutiny when a journalist, Paige Sterling, digs into his past. Hiram McDowell’s initial fall begins with him betraying a colleague, Michael O’Leary. Then, he is faced with a life-changing decision when his grandson, Jeremy, commits a horrible act. The novel is divided into two parts. The first part deals with Hiram’s career and sets up the chain of events which leads to him being on the run from the law. The second part deals with his journey on the run and his struggle to write a memoir.
Coles creates a complex and fascinating character. Hiram is an unrepentant womanizer, constantly cheating on women, and degrading them emotionally. He deeply loves his children but doesn’t always know how to connect with them. He is a study of contrasts, as he doesn’t understand how to give something without strings attached, yet he saves the lives of people every day in his profession. He is a veritable super-human who doesn’t know the joys of what being a human really is. He constantly questions why life tortures him because he believes he is innocent in all things. What he doesn’t understand is how wedded to power he is. He cannot see how his own actions have brought about his circumstances. Ultimately, McDowell is a materialist that has lost all his material possessions.
One of my favorite parts of the novel is his interaction with the character of Maud and her family. Maud has more insight into who he is a person then he ever has, and she isn’t afraid to tell him. Hiram does not dismiss her as an inferior individual. I liked the way that Coles created such a complex character. There are times when you wish to categorize McDowell as selfish and egotistical, yet he does things for his family and others that do not reflect those characterizations.
The author describes the poverty of Nepal and explains some of the customs and practices there, which I thought was interesting. Sophie and Billie travel with Hiram to Nepal where Sophie photographs and documents the plight of the women in the region. There were many cultural aspects about the country that I thought were fascinating to read about. The author deals with many different topics: euthanasia, sexism, politics of the healthcare system, and how the press influence’s public opinion.
I rate this novel 4 out of 4 stars. Coles creates a complex tale about a man who made mistakes but wasn’t evil. McDowell’s life was a study of someone who was judged harshly by the media. He strove to get his story out there despite journalists trying to spin the narrative of his life. The author showcases how Hiram becomes someone who is capable of more than the sum of his professional career. I would recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys good drama and plot twists. The ending surprised me. I would caution those who are sensitive to topics such as suicide or abuse. There was nothing that I disliked about the novel and I did not see any major grammatical errors. I highly recommend this compelling novel.
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