“As the Chief of Rheumatology at Columbia Presbyterian, Dr. Paul Allen’s specialty is diagnosing patients with conflicting symptoms, patients other doctors have given up on. He lives a contented life in Westport with his second wife and their twin sons—hard won after a failed marriage earlier in his career that produced a son named Daniel. In the harrowing opening scene of this provocative and affecting novel, Dr. Allen is home with his family when a televised news report announces that the Democratic candidate for president has been shot at a rally, and Daniel is caught on video as the assassin.
Daniel Allen has always been a good kid—a decent student, popular—but, as a child of divorce, used to shuttling back and forth between parents, he is also something of a drifter. Which may be why, at the age of nineteen, he quietly drops out of Vassar and begins an aimless journey across the United States, during which he sheds his former skin and eventually even changes his name to Carter Allen Cash.”
Thoughts: While the media loves to pounce on an alleged killer and dissect every aspect of his or her life before summarily declaring the person innocent or guilty well before the courts do, they tend to forget about the parents of the alleged killer. Theirs is a story that remains mostly untold. What must it be like to be labeled as the parents of a killer, to know that people now judge you because of the actions of your child? How do they reconcile their memories of a laughing little kid to an adult on trial for murder? Noah Hawley explores these questions and more in his psychological thriller The Good Father.
Dr. Paul Allen faces every parent’s second-worst nightmare – to be faced with the idea that your child has taken the life of someone else. Understandably, Paul immediately sets out to prove his son’s innocence. This flight-or-fight response is not so much about taking care of Daniel but more about assuaging the guilt he feels for not taking better care of his son during those all-important formative years. His search for proof is a flight from the idea that the few weeks each year he spent with Danny after the divorce may have contributed to Danny’s reclusive behavior. While The Good Father is not necessarily a cautionary tale about how children of divorced parents grow up to be killers, it is easy for a reader to make that assumption based on Paul’s questions, actions, and conclusions. While this may not have been Mr. Hawley’s intention, it is there just the same.
Interwoven between Paul’s investigation and the story of Danny’s path from New York to California are the backgrounds of real-life assassins. It makes for an interesting point/counterpoint to compare Danny’s actions and thought processes with the facts that are known about men such as Timothy McVeigh, Sirhan Sirhan, and other famous assassins. Included as part of Paul’s research in the truth behind the assassination, there is even the inclusion of the various conspiracy theories surrounding these famous assassinations. While it is interesting food for thought, after a while it becomes more evidence that Paul is grasping at straws rather than accepting the actions of his son. In other words, a reader may get increasingly bored with Paul’s obsession and failure to truly be there for his son rather than running around after even the weakest lead.
While novels like THE UNDERSIDE OF JOY explore the definition of motherhood, The Good Father investigates what it means to be a father, the compromises, and the tough choices that must be made as the figurative head of the household. It is the story of Paul coming to grips with his failures as a father and with the choices his son made, and accepting that which he can no longer change. Mr. Hawley does an effectual job of making Paul empathetic enough for readers who are parents to be able consider how they would handle similar situations. More importantly, The Good Father gives voice to those silent but suffering parents of famous killers, the pariah status they immediately inherit because of their child’s actions, the changes to their lives they are forced to make.