The Good Father
By Diane Chamberlain
Release Date: April 24, 2012
Four years ago, teenager Travis Brown made an unusual commitment. He chose to accept responsibility for his child whose mother planned to surrender her for adoption. He has worked hard to provide for Bella while his mother provided child care. But when his mother is killed in a house fire that destroys their home, Travis loses his construction job because there is no one to care for Bella. Unable to find work, Travis accepts a neighbor’s offer to connect him with a man in Raleigh, N. C. who can give him work. The work turns out to be illegal, and Travis refuses any part of it. Reduced to living in his van, with his small supply of cash dwindling to almost nothing, Travis grows more and more desperate. Leaving Bella with Erin, an acquaintance they have made through visits to a coffee shop, Travis accepts the job offer, a choice that places his own life in jeopardy along with the life of the daughter he would die to protect.
Erin has moved out of the house where she once lived with her husband Michael and their three-year-old daughter, Carolyn. Since Carolyn drowned, she and Michael have grown further and further apart. Michael wants them to get on with their lives, and Erin is almost paralyzed with grief, reliving the accident that took her child, unable to continue her work as a pharmacist. Her only interactions are with her therapist and with members of an online support group for grieving parents. When Travis leaves Bella with her, Erin begins to surface from her immersion in grief to meet Bella’s needs. In caring for Bella, she may find her way back to her life—if they survive.
Robin Saville is thrilled with her life. A heart transplant patient who lived a restricted life as a child and teenager, she enjoys her job as manager of a bed and breakfast in Beaufort, North Carolina, and feels lucky that she is engaged to the son and probable successor of the town’s mayor and one of its wealthiest citizens. But when her fiancé’s unmarried teenage sister gives birth to a daughter, memories that Robin has kept buried for four years begin to stir—memories of her daughter and that daughter’s father, Travis Brown. As her wedding day draws nearer, everything Robin learns about herself and the man she’s marrying makes her question the life she once thought was perfect and long for the one she never had.
The stories of these three characters unfold slowly. Chamberlain shifts points of view, alternating among Travis, Erin, and Robin, and switching between past and present. Travis’s story is the central one. Despite some foolish choices, Travis is a good person and a devoted father, who has already sacrificed a great deal for his child and is willing to do whatever he must do to take care of her. He longs to be for Bella the kind of father his own was: “My father'd never broken a promise to me, and I remembered how that felt, knowing I could always trust him no matter what.” Novels about single mothers struggling to care for their children only one step from disaster are common; it’s much rarer to see a father, particularly such a young one, caught in the same situation. But Travis’s limited education combined with an economy that has devastated the building industry and the kind of tragedy that can leave those who live paycheck to paycheck with no resources when the paychecks stop make this tale all too real.
Having witnessed at close hand the measureless grief of parents who lost a child in an accident, I found Erin’s story just as real and even more heartbreaking. Robin too is a sympathetic character. Chamberlain’s characterization of all three is rich and layered, and the reader is caught up in all their stories. The villains are stereotypes, but they serve their purpose. While the ending is a bit too neat and The Good Father did not measure up to my favorites by Chamberlain such as Kiss River and Before the Storm, fans of character-driven stories that ring true emotionally will find this a satisfying read.
How do you feel about novels with shifting points of view? What about non-linear narratives?