A novel follows a surgeon who possesses all the material comforts anyone could want, but harbors a deep lacking in his soul.
When readers first meet Hiram McDowell, he is leaving a hiking partner for dead and trying to make it back down a mountain in Nepal in 1981. It’s hard to judge if McDowell is simply callous and cruel or whether this is an issue of survival. Everything readers learn about him in the next few chapters, though, shows he is a pig who treats women like objects and deceives his third wife, Carole Mastriano. He’s also power-hungry, cheating a colleague, Michael O’Leary, out of a post on his way to becoming president of the International College of Surgeons. The one soft spot he has is for his three kids: Billie, who gets in trouble with one of Carole’s daughters; Ann, who copes with a turbulent marriage and mean children; and Sophie, who seeks to find her professional footing as a photographer. The tales start to converge when Paige Sterling, a journalist in her 50s fighting sexism at her network to keep her job, is assigned to cover McDowell’s story. Tragedy befalls the family when Ann’s son Jeremy goes on a killing spree, which leads to McDowell’s ultimate downfall when he is convicted of murdering the culprit in his hospital bed. McDowell escapes from prison and begins an unlikely association with a bookstore owner named Maud and her family. That gives him a chance at spiritual redemption while Sterling and the police try to hunt him down. Coles (Sister Carrie, 2016, etc.) has a knack for creating distinct characters. From McDowell to the members of Sterling’s crew in Nepal, they all have their own personalities. No player is wasted as a mere plot device. The author also expertly weaves together varied threads, though there are certain points where the story jumps forward past important action. But Billie revealing his indiscretions and his desire to be an artist; Sophie struggling to find herself after her partner is murdered; Ann navigating her marriage; and Sterling using unexpected opportunities all dovetail well with McDowell’s arc.
This worthy tale delivers an epic feel and strong characters.