McDowell by William H. Coles is an engrossing piece of literary fiction surrounding the rise, fall, and ultimate redemption of Dr. Hiram McDowell. McDowell is both the story’s protagonist and, as he truly is his own worst enemy, also the catalyst for his demise. This snowballs from years of narcissism, callous behavior, and a ‘win at any cost’ attitude. He’s blameless in his own eyes. Blameless for failed marriages, for his vengeful colleagues, and for the frailty of his own family—which catastrophically manifests itself in the most violent way. The clank of bars isn’t enough for Hiram to see the error of his ways, but when he disappears into the refuge of the wilderness, the harsh realities of where he’s come and the things he’s done are nearly insurmountable…even for an experienced mountaineer.
Was I meant to hate Hiram McDowell before his journey of redemption began? I don’t know, but hate wasn’t something I felt for him. In fact, as a character, he’s probably one of the most interesting I’ve come across in a long, long time. At first, I thought he was projecting an existential nihilism, but he cares about the good he has in his life far too much for that to be the case. When he loses all of it, not only does he care, but he refuses to take any accountability. The story of McDowell by William H. Coles is a character-driven narrative with a transcendental redemption arc. The people he meets, both good and bad, are perfectly fleshed out by Coles. This is quality literary fiction that, having been written at any other time than now (when millions of books are released per year), would have become required reading. It’s that good.