4 out of 4 stars
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From the prologue, Hiram McDowell, the protagonist of the novel, McDowell by William H. Coles, leaves a mountain-climbing colleague to die below the summit of Everest while saving himself. For me, the unfiltered soul of this character was set. A part of me thought cynically, 'Here we go again: another rise-and-fall story of a selfish, callous, rich, white guy who uses his peers like the character Francis Underwood from the hit TV series, House of Cards.’ I projected that, by and by, a personal crisis, brought about by karma, would bring Hiram McDowell to his knees and the story will wrap up. But there was another niggling thought in my mind. The name of the author seemed familiar. I thought, 'Haven’t I read and reviewed a book by this very writer?' I dug into my reviews folder and I had: Illustrated Fiction of William H. Coles, 2000 -2012. Having read the stories of this author before and immersed myself in his characters and through their souls, I was confident I was in for a literary treat.
In the story, Hiram McDowell is an influential, internationally known and celebrated surgeon who is imprisoned for the mercy-killing of his grandson, a mass shooter in a coma after a failed suicide attempt. He escapes. He moves from one state to another living the life of a homeless drifter. It is through these sojourns as a fugitive the depth of Hiram’s characters is fleshed out. He is forced to confront his self-centeredness as the reason for his demise. And in the end, he finds selflessness and something else.
I celebrate the crafting of this novel. In literary instruction, we’re told to ensure that our protagonists grow between the beginning and ending of novels. This central character does. Supporting his story are supporting figures that are well outlined, written, and motivated by relevant backstories. Every minor bit ties in with the major plot. The short chapters move the book along and it engages the mind, philosophically. The success of this narrative is the unpredictable main plot and the adventures that derive from it. William H. Coles forces us to be objective—to be not condemnatory. By and by, the author cajoles us to care—to accept that no one is perfect. William H Coles makes us feel the need to root for a human being regarded as a criminal as he goes through a metamorphosis to find his humanity.
What I found unsettling is the way the author flips from writing in the past tense to writing in the present tense in a few chapters. It does not break the flow of the narrative significantly, however. Maybe William H. Coles dares to be experimental. There’s no harm in that.
As for reading suitability, this book will delight adult readers. It may not appeal to young adults, however.
McDowell is a clinical study of human vanity, human frailty—mental and moral—and the need for the discovery and rectification of self. This novel has turned out to be a memorable read for me. William H. Coles is a master storyteller whose plotting ability boldly surprises and enlightens. I give this title 4 out of 4 stars.
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