4 out of 4 stars
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William H. Coles
Published 22 August 2015
This book is about Hiram McDowell who is an acclaimed surgeon, a highly successful man who has achieved almost everything most people only dream of.
While his image in the shop-window shows a remarkable personality, his character is far from being flawless.
He lives in his third marriage for convenience. Communication and intimacy are unknown in his married life. His infidelity deeply hurts his wife. Carole's life is a nightmare, but Hiram's attitude is clearly cynical.
In his career, he sticks at nothing to achieve his goals. His close acquaintances know the unscrupulous aspect of his character.
On the positive side is his generosity and affection for his children. He supports his three adult children and keeps in touch with them.
Hiram McDowell is an achiever, and he always wants to get even higher. He aspires to be the Secretary for Health and Human Services. A TV special is shot about his personality as a benefactor and his professional bravura. One of McDowell's enemies starts an attack against him. An old case is brushed up and, eventually, an ethical board deprives McDowell of his position as president to the board of directors. And it is just the beginning. The fall of an avalanche of misfortunes is yet to come.
McDowell is involved in a dubious euthanasia case which results in sentencing him to twenty-five years in prison.
After serving more than a year of his sentence, McDowell escapes from the jail. He seeks refuge in the wilderness. Thanks for his climbing and trekking experience, he can survive on rough conditions. However, he cannot hide from his anger and self-pity. He holds himself as innocent.
While he is hovering in the country, he meets various kinds of people. Slowly the arrogant and ruthless man is growing to a wiser, more tolerant person who learns to understand his inner drives and other people’s motivations.
He makes friends; he gets and gives help when needed. He writes his memoir and gets in touch with his daughter. A journalist, who caused harm to McDowell with her investigation into McDowell’s financial affairs, now wants to write a book about him. She needs to talk with him; this is why she turns to a skip tracer. They keep on chasing him for several years. McDowell saves the life of an acquaintance who reports his whereabouts to the police. The sheriff and his team shoot McDowell to death although he is defenseless.
The story may provoke strong emotions from the beginning to the end. Although I did not hate McDowell, there were a few moments when I felt like slapping him in the face (e.g., his behavior with the bar singer). I think although he was a problematic character, his motivations and views were strongly influenced by the socially accepted beliefs and norms. As he was transforming from inside out, I gradually received him and was moved over his death. At the same time, I felt a warm, uplifting catharsis. He lived high and low, tasted wealth and poverty, was confronted with, and eventually accepted other people’s less than noble motivations, like hostility, revenge, selfishness. He died as a more matured, better person than he was when we first met him. He was complete with his life path.
This novel reminds me of the literary classics where colorful and versatile pictures are depicted of the contemporary societies and where the main character undergoes a profound transformation. I also liked the epigraphs at the beginning of specific chapters. I think the author is a master of creating authentic ambiances with dialogues and style (e.g., the professional language used on the ethics board meeting; the slang spoken in the streets of Seattle).
I highly appreciate the fine character drawings in the novel and think the pen-and-ink sketch of McDowell on the cover fits very well to the book.
This book is not about merely Hiram McDowell’s life; it is about life with Hiram McDowell participating in it. I recommend this novel to those who like reading high-quality literature. I wholeheartedly rate it 4 out of 4 stars.
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