Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Good Father - My Thoughts on the Novel

Every father loves his child. No father would want to see his kid destroy his own life. Unfortunately, this is what happens to Dr. Paul Allen, a renowned medical specialist in the United States.

The story opens very innocently where we see Dr. Allen on his way home after work one evening. He comes home to the perfect family life -  his wife has dinner ready and their two twin sons are playing. Then, Dr. Allen finds out - from the news on TV and  the government agents at his door - that his eldest son from his first marriage, Daniel, had been arrested for allegedly assassinating the future president of the country.

From this point on, Dr. Allen's life changes. The government agents who have come to escort him are not reserved in showing that he does not deserve their respect, since he is the father of the assassin of a hugely popular political figure. His boss and colleagues at work who once respected him now avoid him at all cause.  He is even rudely interrupted in the streets whenever someone recognizes him. Even his wife starts to believe that her stepson might have really been the assassin.

But this does not stop Dr. Allen. He knows his son would never do something like this. He acknowledges the fact that Daniel is the result of a broken family, a terrible divorce. Most of his holidays were spent in airports and on airplanes traveling between two homes. Dr. Allen's ex-wife, though a reluctant single parent, insisted on having custody of him to convince society she is not a bad mother. Despite all the evidence that is brought before him, he works hard to find any conspiracy theory to discredit it instantly.

The story is narrated from Dr. Allen's point of view. We only see and judge Daniel through his eyes.

As the novel progresses, we see how deep a father's love actually can be. Dr. Allen never openly admitted to Daniel how much he loved him, or how much he placed his son's life above his. He regrets letting Daniel slip away by dropping out from college and travelling across the country. He notices how Daniel divulges in food each time they meet after Daniel is left penniless in the middle of his travels. But a father's love is different from a mother's. Dr. Allen lets Daniel be who he wants to be. Until his son's life takes a much more sinister turn.

When his wife reminds him he has two more sons to care for, Dr. Allen pretends to leave everything behind. However, he keeps a secret achieve of all the newspaper clipping and other information regarding Daniel's case. The determined doctor never gives up home, not even when his lawyer friend sees no chance of winning nor when Daniel himself threatens to not speak to him if he appeals the case. This is where you see even further how Dr. Allen goes the distance to prove his son's innocence; meeting with people Daniel stayed with or might have met during his trips.

The most heartbreaking part of the novel is late one night when Dr. Allen gets a phone call from Daniel at his detention center. Hoping that Daniel has finally changed his mind about appealing the case, the doctor is devastated to find out that a date has been set for his execution - Daniel will be drugged to death.

[[SPOILER ALERT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!]]

This pushes the doctor beyond the point of desperation. For months he has been investigating Daniel's case like as a doctor diagnosing a patient. Now he does not even care if his son stops talking to him. He was going to appeal the case. But first he goes to Daniel's former university to see if he can discover anything at all that can save his son. Instead, he is approached by a mysterious figure who reveals that Daniel was indeed the one who assassinated the presidential candidate. All this mysterious man did was push him to the limit - sort of indirectly encourage him to perform the deed. And then, the man disappears.

Dr. Allen finally comes to terms with the fact that somewhere along the road of coming of age, Daniel lost his way and for some reason still unclear to anyone, pulled the trigger that killed a very important man. The last few pages of the book is most difficult to read. This story is in no way a bad one. It is actually the best I have read this year. But there is no poetic justice. Dr. Allen has been misleading readers all along; an unreliable narrator through and through. Though other characters pretty much see that Daniel was the killer all along, Dr. Allen refused to allow himself to believe that. Just like a doctor finding alternatives to cure his patient, the guilt-ridden father was constantly looking at other ways the events of that fateful day could have happened.

The only problem I had with the novel is that whole chapters, though only occasional, were used to narrate previous incidents relating to assassination and gun control in the United States. In my opinion, they had very little to contribute to the actual story of Dr. Allen;s quest to prove Daniel's innocence. The novel juggled between intimate themes like fatherhood and coming of age and even more political ones like conspiracy theories and gun control in the US. This is all very relevant in relation to the country's current socio-climate.

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