Fans of popular fiction might be inclined to pass over books classified as literary fiction. What a mistake that would be in the case of McDowell by William H. Coles. While a good plot is essential to all fiction, in literary fiction the exploration of character takes precedence over plot. And why not? After all, isn’t it what people do, think and feel…what motivates and demotivates them…that either propels them to climb to the summit of their abilities or plummets them into hell on earth?
This, and what Dr. McDowell, a brilliant, but self-centered surgeon discovers about himself, is what stays with readers after they finish this absorbing story. When we first meet Dr. McDowell, there is little to like about him. His achievements in both business, medicine, mountain climbing and empire building are impressive, but his actions, words, and insensitivity to the needs of his family, friends and colleagues are reprehensible. He is a powerful man and it’s his way or the highway at all times. His only saving grace is his love of his children and the work he does for the poor in Nepal.
But the latter comes under severe scrutiny once a TV journalist, Paige, is assigned to do a series on the high-profile Dr. McDowell. Bit by bit, McDowell’s world falls apart, coming to a head when he removes his grandson, a mass murderer, from life support. Until the very last page, readers will be debating the real reasons for Dr. McDowell becoming a murderer himself by taking such action, action for which, by the way, he ends up being convicted and imprisoned. But it’s over the years following his escape from prison, that through the people he meets while on the run, McDowell comes face to face with himself. What he learns about himself and others leaves readers thinking about life, art, humanity and our place on this earth in ways we may not yet have pondered. It’s a revelation for both McDowell and readers.
There’s an interesting twist to McDowell that will capture the minds of aspiring writers. While McDowell is on the run, and as he talks to more and more people, he begins writing his memoir. What he learns about writing, for example, one has to know what makes people do what they do “to write anything significant,” really hits home. It’s something all writers should know. But do they, in their haste to churn out books with fast-moving plots, always create something “significant” It’s William H. Coles’ ability to create something significant, time and again, that has earned him a multitude of writing awards. His bio is impressive; so is his bibliography. Once you read McDowell, you will, like me, be looking for more books by William H. Coles. I can’t wait to get started on the next one in my collection. Not bad for someone who, until McDowell, had forgotten the beauty of literary fiction.