There are two TV shows that I have yet to see a single frame of and yet I am dying to witness: The Americans and Fargo. Both of them are on the FX Network. Both of them have had good to great first seasons that have taken a giant leap to greatness in their second seasons. At the helm of Fargo is showrunner Noah Hawley. The weird thing about names that come out of nowhere is how well they can stick. So imagine my surprise when, on a community trip to the local library with my students, I spotted the name Noah Hawley and immediately grabbed the book. I figured that whatever genius and skill lead him to the reigns of Fargo had to be evidenced in this very book, The Good Father.
The story follows the perspective of Dr. Allen as he is at home with his second family, watching the news coverage of the Democratic primary. The politician at the center of it all is the next Great American Hope, a senator who can bring both sides together and make the future something worth looking forward to. That is, until he is gunned down and later dies at the hospital. The suspect? Dr. Allen’s son, Danny.
I am a sucker for great first chapters, and The Good Father delivers one of the best I have read in a long time. It lays out the details of this horrible crime that took place, narrated by someone we have yet to identify, and then ends with “I am his father, you see. He is my son.” The stakes are laid out. A parent’s worst nightmare is about to be confirmed.
Hawley got the idea for this novel as his wife was pregnant with their first child. He wondered what kind of father he would be and what kind of person his daughter would become. In his interview with the New York Times, asked how fatherhood had influenced his writing, he said, “The other morning I realized with some horror that I had written a novel that requires me to talk at length about the only two subjects in American life that will get you into trouble 100 per cent of the time: parenting and politics.”
In this novel, there are no chapter numbers or titles. There are simple breaks in the text. Each time you see a shortened page indicating a new chapter, you’re given a chance to either take a deep breath or proceed ahead. What is so great about this novel becomes apparent in your breathing patterns. At times you will race to the next chapter; at times you will want to slow everything down.
What I am so struck by with Hawley’s storytelling is how he uses misdirection in a way that reflects how human we are. For the first half of the novel or so, it feels like an intense, clue-to-clue thriller broken up with short chapters about Danny. You are convinced that justice will be served and the father will be given a sense of relief that he, in fact, did not completely screw up his son. But, just as you start to get comfortable with the momentum, it pulls away. The pace elongates, the answers become fewer and less supportive, and the truth increasingly painful.
By the end, Dr. Allen does the one thing his son has asked him to do all along, and it is leaves us with a final line that is as painful as it is cathartic.