Friday, March 16, 2012

In which I prove unworthy of free books

Book blogger milestone alert! The Good Father is my first ever advanced reader copy. This situation is a bit awkward for me, because I feel obligated to put on my Serious Reviewer of Books face and show Doubleday that their mailing envelope wasn't utterly wasted on me. So I'll at least TRY to put a leash on my natural tendency toward caustic humor, lest this be my first AND last ARC.

Here’s what I’m going to do: First, I’ll put on my business casual and tell you what I liked about this book. Then I’ll change into some Urban Outfitters and commence with the judginess.

But before I do any of that, I should probably tell you what this book is about.

Daniel Allen stands accused of very publicly assassinating a breakout star in the presidential race. His father, who lost touch with him years before, receives the news with utter disbelief. He sets out to prove his son’s innocence, retracing Daniel's nomadic road trip across the country and adapting his medical skills as a diagnostician to identify the factors (symptoms) that landed Daniel at the scene of the crime (the disease). Along the way, he confronts his failures as a father . . . or, rather, THEY confront HIM.

The Good Father is not particularly plot-driven. If I had to call it anything, I might label it a procedural. There’s a lot of medical terminology, and chapters dedicated to case studies of well-known killers and wannabe killers (James Earl Ray, John Hinckley, etc.) are interspersed throughout.

This is the part where I say nice things.

Noah Hawley does a great job of building suspense. Right away, we start out with a climax. After that, we’re seeing everything from the father’s perspective, and all the revelations are in hindsight. It would be really easy for the story to fall flat after such an explosive beginning, but Noah keeps the momentum up and manages to end most chapters on a dramatic note that serves as a cliffhanger of sorts.

Also, I can tell he did his research. He put on The Doctor (No, Alice, not THAT Doctor) hat for writing all the medical bits and changed into The Criminologist hat for all the history lessons. And he kept The Sympathetic Father hat firmly in place from beginning to end. He helped us understand that a stubborn determination to believe the best about your children even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary is not a weakness; it’s just parenthood.

Now, this part might sting a little.

I enjoyed the case studies, but I think I liked them TOO much. Ideally, historical tangents should advance and enhance the fictional aspects of the book, but in this case, the truth overshadowed the fiction. The case studies were so full of fact and nuance that they exposed the other chapters as not being fully fleshed out. It was an unflattering comparison, I’m sad to say.

My biggest complaint is not with the story itself . . . and maybe it’s not a fair complaint. But here I go complaining about it anyway. First of all, let me say that I realize this is an uncorrected proof. I expected some minor typos and typesetting quirks, and even though they drive me CRAZY (fun fact: professional copy editors do not come with an OFF switch), I kissed my red pen goodnight and sent it to bed. My issue was not the typos; it was the glaring inconsistencies. Maybe someone who is used to getting All The ARCs can tell me if that's normal, but in my experience working with publishers, by the time the manuscript gets to the proofing stage, making changes is expensive . . . so the big issues should be ironed out already.

I’ll give you an example of one of the most troubling inconsistencies I found, and then I’ll stop obsessing over it, because I don’t work for Doubleday (unless they’re hiring *nudge nudge*).
“He bought the gun in Long Beach, at a pawnshop called Lucky’s.” (p. 1)
“Last night he’d chosen the gun. An STI Trojan 9-mm he’d bought at a pawnshop in Sacramento. Lucky’s.” (p. 285)
These lines are pivotal to the story. One is literally the first sentence in the book; the other reiterates that first sentence, bringing a winding, arduous journey full circle. The fact that they don't match . . . well, that's a problem. I'll cross my fingers that this and the other little naughties will be wrangled in the finished book.

And now I’ve broken the big rule of reviewing and quoted from the uncorrected proof.

This is why we can't have nice things.
Criticisms aside, I DID enjoy this book. Overall, I deem it worthy of our precious reading time, if not a shoe in for any of the inevitable 2012 best-of lists.

SOURCE: Hawley, Noah. (2012). The Good Father. New York: Doubleday. [Tentative on-sale date: March 20, 2012]


  1. I was MIGHTILY disappointed by a lack of reference to the correct Doctor.

    And DUDE I am doing my first ARC review next month and I'm terrified I won't like it and seem weird and ungrateful. But anyway. The parts with case studies look good, but I'd rather just read TruTV's crime library.

  2. I've pretty much decided not to get into the whole ARC business.  I want full reign to be as honest as possible in reviews, and I don't want to feel like I'm looking over my shoulder if I give a book two stars.  

    This book doesn't sound like my cup of tea, although it reminds me that I really need to pick up a copy of Sarah Vowell's Assassination Vacation.  

    I do a lot of editing for my work, too, and I'm constantly having to restrain myself from correcting Real Life Things.  I think proper punctuation use is my superpower.  

    Which is actually really, really sad.

  3. But I gave you a Fassbender . . . so that's something.

    I am SO excited to read your ARC review. I KIND of hope you hate it, but I would be willing to accept mild distaste.

  4. I didn't really seek out the just came to me. But then I felt imaginary pressure to read it and love it and rave about it. I think I managed to be honest without being too brutal. I think. *looks over shoulder*

    Proper punctuation is NOT a dumb superpower! It's a rare one. THE WORLD NEEDS YOU.