4 out of 4 stars
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It is a common practice that the main character of a fictional story should at least try to be likable. However, sometimes you find a protagonist so despicable that you eagerly wait for his suffering without an ounce of mercy. If you are reading a work of an expert writer, you will gradually turn this initial contempt into tentative understanding and sadness when his end does come. This was what I felt after finishing McDowell, and I applaud Mr. Coles for his craft.
The novel chronicled the well-deserved demise and the heart-warming redemption of Hiram McDowell. At first, he had everything to his personal satisfaction: a successful career, an endless supply of money, and the expanding political clout. It all came crashing down when several accusations of professional and ethical misconduct came to light. He was soon left with nothing but misery and disappointment. In a desperate attempt to escape the bleak situation and seek revenge, he ran into the wilderness and struggled to fend for himself, at the same time encountering many kind people with refreshing approaches to life. He would soon realize that to reach closure, one should follow the path of self-acceptance and making amends for his past mistakes.
The first fascinating aspect of the novel came from the journey of the main character. In fact, I had mixed feelings about the man himself. There was a gaping distance between “Dr. McDowell” and “Hiram”. Dr. McDowell was the proud regent of the International College of Surgeons and the president of a well-known charity foundation. On the contrary, Hiram was a conceited manipulative misogynist and a neglectful father. In conclusion, Hiram McDowell was by no means the admirable man he pretended to be. While relentlessly pursuing more wealth and power, he unconsciously set the stage for his own downfall. When the time inevitably came, he was reduced to who he was at heart: a giant "manchild". We saw him acting like an irresponsible kid, wailing for sympathy while blaming the world and refusing to believe his wretched fate was due to karma. Luckily, he managed to grow up. He learned how to sympathize with and even take care of others without asking for compensation. The book framed itself as a “coming of age” story, and it was definitely on point.
Throughout the book, many intricate details were placed carefully and eventually woven into a very tight plot that would surprise and delight you. The novel contained two major parts: the first one documented his demise, while the second one was about his redemption. Overall, both parts employed the same structural tactic. The descriptions would switch back and forth between McDowell’s outer appearance (as speculated from other people's points of view) and his true inner thoughts. However, the two parts had two completely different tones and feels. While the first one hinted at an emptiness masked by casual disdain and indifference, the second was more affectionate and contemplative. This subtly reflected the changes in McDowell’s attitudes and moral values.
The story introduced a large cast of characters with varying levels of significance. They are either the positive or negative forces in McDowell’s life. To be honest, I found the non-recurring characters much more engaging than the recurring ones. There were a lonely owner of a modest inn, an unkempt guitarist on the street, and an elusive artist with a heart of gold. Despite having little fortune and no prominence, they represented the uplifting forces reminding McDowell that cold cash and glamour were not the all-consuming purposes of life.
The novel did have some downsides. The opening was slow and lackluster, while the ending was sudden and disruptive. There were also a few minor spelling and grammar mistakes. Besides, the author attempted to touch on other social dilemmas like integrity in journalism, the monetary aspect of arts, the plight of women, and euthanasia. Unfortunately, it lacked sufficient depth to make profound impressions.
I rate this book 4 out of 4 stars. McDowell is highly recommended to those who are fans of drama genre or are looking for a thrilling story with plenty of meaningful introspection. The novel should not be treated as a light read since you may miss some wisdom on how to build a truly satisfying life.
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