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Friday, March 30, 2012

The Good Father by Noah Hawley

The Good Father by Noah Hawley
Published by Doubleday ISBN 978-0-385-53553-3
Hardcover $25.95

There are two books that published recently, Defending Jacob, by William Landay and The Good Father by Noah Hawley, that deal with fathers struggling with the accusation that their sons committed murder.

In Landay's novel, an assistant district attorney's teenage son is accused of killing his classmate. In The Good Father, Dr. Paul Allen's estranged college drop-out son is arrested for killing a senator, a popular family man on his way to winning his party's presidential nomination.

Allen divorced his son Danny's mother when Danny was a young boy. He left them and moved across the country to take another job. He remarried and began a new family, now father to twin boys. Danny spent time with his dad and his new family, summer vacations, but he was basically raised by his mother, a woman who was prone to "intense manic interest followed by long stretches of epic boredom", as Danny was.

Paul is shocked when he and his wife see on the news that Danny is the one arrested for killing the senator. He cannnot believe that his son did this; there must be a mistake. He hires a lawyer for his son, but his son will not cooperate. Danny is being held in federal custody and no one is allowed to see him.

Paul becomes obsessed with proving that his son is part of a conspiracy, a fall guy for the murder. He travels across the country, trying to piece together the last few years of his son's life; where he was, who he met, what he did.

This obsession endangers his marriage, and he and his new family are hounded so much, they  move to a rural community in Colorado to escape and start over. His wife is patient, but she firmly tells him that if Danny will not cooperate, they must let him go and concentrate on saving their own two sons.

Hawley is a good writer, he really makes the reader empathetic to Paul's pain and anguish. He writes a great line, "Father and sons. What we wouldn't give to trade places with our boys, to absorb their suffering and ease their pain."

And yet here is my thought on that. Dr. Allen divorced Danny's mother because he couldn't take living with her anymore, that she may have suffered from depression. But he thought it was OK to leave his young son to be raised by her alone, while he starts a new life far away. Would it have been better for his son if he had his father around growing up? If he had made that sacrifice for his son, would things have turned out differently? I think that is something that Paul will have to live with for the rest of his life.

The Good Father haunts you with its sadness and despair, with a puzzling mystery thrown in. Did Danny kill the senator or was he a pawn in a conspiracy? It makes you uncomfortable, and gets you to think that you may not know your own child, the things he has gone through, what he is thinking. I do like that we get to see what Danny has gone through the past few years, and how he got to where he sadly ended up.

rating 4 of 5

My review of William Landay's Defending Jacob is here


  1. Why does Danny kill the senator?

  2. Danny thought the senator was a hypocrite. He claimed to be a family man, but Danny caught him ogling the girl Danny brought to the rally. I also think Danny was suffering from some form of mental illness.