Title: The Good Father
Author: Diane Chamberlain
Publisher: MIRA Books
Other Reviews for This Author: None
Women's fiction is that wonderful genre that has become a comfort for me. It's a genre that takes some of the more verbose writing in literary fiction and adds a bit more plot and character growth into the mix. It has elements of romance but focuses more on the domestic here and now - women and their relationships on the whole, not just their romance with the love of their life. It's a nice break from romance and young-adult, and it can be extremely satisfying to read a good women's fiction novel. The Good Father is more of a male-centric version of women's fiction (there are two female point-of-views, but the starring point of view is the singular male voice of Travis) that gives its readers a touching view on what it's like to be a single father that struggles to provide everything he can for his daughter - even if it means doing something he never wanted to do.
At the age of 19, Travis became a teen father. He left behind any notion of living a regular life when his girlfriend Robin became pregnant with his daughter. Now, several years later, Travis is facing a life more difficult than he ever imagined. He lived with his mother, did construction work to help pay for Bella's needs, and was generally happy. Then his mother's house burned down in a fire. Bella survived, but his mother didn't. Travis and Bella are now homeless and without a source of income. They're living in Travis' van and washing up in a local coffee shop in the mornings. Travis can't seem to find a job, but he does have a connection that should give him the opportunity to earn some money - if he can handle doing something illegal in the name of keeping Bella cared for.
Robin was never allowed to date Travis Brown. Travis was everything that Robin's father wanted to protect her against - a hormonal teenage boy that came from little social standing and little class. He was too hard to resist, though. Travis was Robin's best friend and companion. Their love was one that grew until it surpassed that of friendship. It all seemed so inevitable - making love, having a baby - even though Robin's heart disease and her oppressive father threatened to disrupt everything. Then her disease worsened. She had the baby in the hospital and realized that her illness would make it impossible to be a mother. She signed her baby girl over to Travis' care and pretended as if she never existed. Years later, Robin is engaged to an older man who's running for mayor. His prominent social standing and wealth promise so much for her. He's everything her father wanted her to have, but all Robin can think about is the baby she left behind.
When Erin first met Travis and Bella in JumpStart, she was overcome with concern over their living situation. They came in almost every morning; Travis would take Bella into the restroom, and they would both come out looking as if they had used it to clean up. He always seemed like he couldn't afford to buy her a breakfast in the morning. Erin immediately connected to Bella, thinking of her as a little girl similar to her own daughter who had died in a freak accident. Her tentative friendship with Travis and his daughter quickly grew into something far more serious than Erin ever expected. Erin had no idea that Travis would see her as a friend and entrust Bella into her company. Erin had no idea that Bella would help her get to the next stage of grief - or that Travis would seemingly abandon his daughter in order to finally get a job to support her.
Chamberlain's story shines in many small ways. The balance of these three narrators is rarely perfect, yet each of them shines. Travis is the center of attention within the novel and easily the most complex of the three narrators. Travis is the type of male character that is almost impossible to imagine in real life, yet at the same time he is arguably more realistic than most female author's perceptions of male characters. Travis does have a few traditional "male" tendencies such as saying the word 'dude' (which I will talk about more in a bit), but for the most part his personality leans towards the more sensitive end of things. His life issues have sobered him up as a character. He doesn't exist simply to be a static male voice, but instead to show that there is a very real type of single father out there - a sacrificial type of father that, while overwhelmed, understands the trials and tribulations of being a single parent. In part, Travis plays a huge role in allowing readers to finally find a hero that understands being a single parent. He starts off the novel as being completely at odds with his current living situation, and he is pressured into doing something he would never do in order to make ends meet. The reader sees how Travis matures from his flashbacks (where he is a teenager with Robin and just experiencing the issues with her father) to his present self to his post-book self. Everything he goes through revolves around his determination to make Bella's life better than what it is. What's interesting is that Chamberlain doesn't attach this to a sense of male hubris. His goal is never because of his manly pride, but because of his duty as a father to the daughter that he loves. That, to me, made Travis a character that I loved reading about again and again. Most authors put so much focus on the male ego and pride. Travis isn't that type of guy at all - and it makes him realistic. Not only does he end up being realistic, but watching him grow in his sense of duty as a father and his love for Bella is just beautiful. It's the kind of story that really touches a reader's heartstrings.
The other two narratives focus on the women that Travis has touched in his life. Robin's narrative is not as present as Erin's - Robin doesn't have as much contact with Travis outside of flashback scenes - and is therefore a little bit weaker in terms of execution, but there isn't a lack of depth to her character by any means. Robin provides the reality of what it's like to lose your child in a way that would result in your ex-lover being the single parent. Robin expresses a lot of charged emotions; she starts with numbness and a barely perceptible understanding that something is missing in her life. As the story progresses, Robin finds her fiance to be more of a terrible person than she imagined. She cannot stop thinking about the love she left behind with her daughter and Travis. These memories bombard Robin until she beings to truly notice the world around her - how things have lost their luster, how she has driven herself into a false sense of security, how she is not really happy with all of the things going on that are supposed to be happy. Robin is one of those characters that some women will see themselves in. She's the type of character that is happy in her career and supposedly going on to the next step of a happy, well-to-do marriage, but in reality does not want to be married to the traditionally good guy. Erin is much different from Robin. Where Robin is still inexperienced and confused with some of the things relating to pre-marriage, Erin is suffering from the confusion of post-marriage life. Her issues with her husband and how he deals with grief lead her to want a temporary separation from him. The separation confuses Erin as much as it helps her. She grieves for her daughter in a way that makes her desperate to make contact with another child like her - Bella being the first person she latches on to. What's cool about Erin is that her growth is very strong, and much of it comes from this seemingly bad behavior of hers. The reader initially questions why Erin's befriending of Bella would be a positive influence on her mental state, but Bella encourages Erin in subtle ways that are really a genius way to show character growth. Befriending Bella and Travis gives Erin a sense of worth, but it also gives her a chance to focus on something other than her grief. She ends up confronting her husband and her behavior in ways that, throughout the book, allow her to open up as a person and move forward in her life. She also comes to better understand the different types of grief. Everything in these two women's narratives felt honest, deep, and emotional. There was so much to enjoy. The only real issue is that, compared to Travis, the character arcs are minor and not as satisfying from a narrative standpoint.
Despite strengths in character, Chamberlain did show weaknesses in some of the storytelling ideas she used in The Good Father. The Good Father is a character-driven novel, and the weakness in character relationships showed in the romance between Robin and Travis. The romance is a relatively late-blooming affair that hinges on the idea that the reader can believe that the two still love each other after several years of separation and dealing with misconceptions implanted to both parties by Robin's psychotic father. Yes, the two have a well-established history that is finely crafted and proves to read realistically, but the drastic difference of five plus years without contact between the two makes their romance unbelievable. There's not much except a continuation of what left off. Is it possible? Yes. Does the reader enjoy it and find it lovely in the moment? Yes. Does it read as being realistic? No. What the romance really leaves out is all that changed the two in those five years. Five years is a long time to be without the love of your life. Between the lies Robin's father told and the growing up the two did after their separation, it's hard for the reader to truly accept that their relationship feels so conflict-free at the end. It goes beyond planting a simple seed of hope for the relationship and reads as too definitive about their future for the novel. The Good Father, as women's fiction, does not have to comply with genre romance standards, so I don't expect a present-time romance that was just rekindled in the last fifty or so pages to have a definitive happy ending or anything beyond hope. The two characters had changed too much for coming romance to make sense in the text without some background. The same could be said of the suspense portion of the plot that kicked in at the end - although it was more established than the romance by far, at times it felt tacked on and not necessary for the advancement of the characters. Still, Chamberlain made the suspense work for the most part - and its addition to the text was probably one of the reasons that she's compared to Jodi Picoult, who writes subplots of a similar nature (although hers err on the legal/court side of things as opposed to the action.)
Chamberlain's writing does have a lot of strengths to it, just the same. There's something about her style of writing that keeps the reader invested. She focuses on exposition and dialogue, letting her characters and their domestic actions run the story as opposed to a plot line. She has a literary quality to her voice, yet for the most part everything is straight-forward and doesn't become unreadable because of the themes she explores. Everything focuses on the characters and their emotional journey, and Chamberlain's style is very good at showcasing the strengths of that type of storyline. Her characters explore themselves and their internal struggles with such intensity that it makes up for the lack of a major plot. The writing has a very comforting quality to it. Chamberlain focuses on letting her characters gain their own voices within the text. Their stories focus a lot on flashbacks and overcoming their pasts to grow as people. Chamberlain's writing just allows those domestic portions of the text to shine - she shows her reader the importance of the everyday and how it relates to a person's psychology. Everything interconnects to her characters, their pasts, and how they react to things in the present. Chamberlain just gets character writing, and in women's fiction that's a huge plus.
All-in-all, there's a lot that I loved about The Good Father. I fully expected the book to take two or three days to read because of the nature of the genre and my reading pace with women's fiction, yet I polished it off in a day when I had some intense reading time. My head rarely came up from the text. Nothing seemed as important as finishing the story that was playing in my head. Chamberlain's characters - Travis, Robin, Erin, Bella - stick with you and make a lasting impression. The story itself is more on the forgettable side because of the lack of plot, but the emotional resonance of the piece is positive and memorable. Readers looking for the emotion of women's fiction with a solid male character will find The Good Father to be more than satisfying, although the novel doesn't deliver as well on the romantic or suspense end of its subplots.
Cover: I actually really like this cover. It very much captures the contemplative feeling of the novel, and the little girl gives off the essence of Bella's character well. Maybe a little too quiet of a cover, but pleasant to look at.
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Copy: Received from publisher/publicist for review (Thank you, Meryl L. Moss Media, MIRA, and Erin.)