Travis Brown thinks that things can’t possibly get any worse for him and his four-year-old daughter, Bella. He’s about to find out how wrong he is.
Travis has lived his entire life in Carolina Beach and can’t imagine life anywhere but by the shore. He has also never lived on his own. After taking custody of newborn Bella, he remained in his mother’s home. She cared for Bella while he worked construction jobs, having given up his dream of one day being a marine biologist in order to care for his little girl. But jobs became harder and harder to find when the economy soured and now Travis has lost both his mother and his home. He is desperate to find work so that he can provide for and protect Bella. And, of course, desperate times call for desperate measures.
Meanwhile, Erin has moved out of the home she shared with Mike for more than a decade. Six months after losing their only child, four-year-old Carolyn, in a freakish accident, the chasm between Erin and Mike couldn’t be wider. She has been unable to continue her career as a pharmacist and has not set foot in Carolyn’s room since her death, but she will not allow Mike to change a thing and was highly disturbed by his suggestion that they donate all of Carolyn’s things and put a treadmill in the room. Mike dealt with his grief by staying busy, finally finishing all of the home improvement projects he had put off for years and intensifying his professional dedication to developing interactive video games designed to solve real-world problems.
And then there’s Robin, a young woman who has been given two chances for a new start — a heart transplant literally saved her life and the powerful Hendricks family of Beaumont embraced her with a job running their bed and breakfast inn, as well as an introduction into Beaumont society. Soon she will be the wife of Dale Hendricks, son of the current mayor who is on-track to become his father’s successor. No one, not even Dale, knows about Robin’s past. If they find out, she will abandon her and she will have nothing. But she cannot ignore their reaction when Alissa, Dale’s seventeen-year-old sister, becomes pregnant. Observing and supporting Alissa through the pregnancy, childbirth, and difficult early days as a mother dredges up painful memories for Robin and causes her to reevaluate her own choices.
As the lives of Travis, Erin, and Robin intersect and intertwine, each will be tested and forced to decide what matters most to them. As for Travis, he just wants to be a good father to Bella, but how can he accomplish that, given the odds?
Author Diane Chamberlain is known for creating compelling characters and thrusting them into situations and relationships that test their strength and convictions, often causing them to question what they believed to be true before finding themselves dealing with a particular crisis or at a crossroads in their lives. Her twenty-first novel, The Good Father, is no exception. The story is told through first-person narratives from the three main characters.
Once again, Chamberlain brings her characters vividly to life by providing them with complicated histories and even more complex emotions. Travis Brown is a young single father who fought and won the right to raise his daughter rather than see her adopted. He agreed to never have further contact with Robin, believing that was her wish and respecting her dire medical condition. In the intervening four years, Travis has devoted himself completely to being the best possible father he can, abandoning his dream of a college education in favor of nonspecialized construction jobs that put food on the table, relying on his mother to assist by providing child care. Travis has never lived on his own apart from his mother, but when he loses her, as well as their home, one tragic afternoon, he must chart a new course — quickly. America’s struggling economy has eliminated most construction jobs and Travis grows increasingly desperate to find any means to provide for little Bella. When his neighbor boasts that she can get him a job in Raleigh that will pay well, he reluctantly heads north. Travis is naive and disappointment awaits, but Bella’s hunger pains can only be quelled one way and he needs money for food. So he agrees to engage in dangerous, illegal behavior just once in order to earn enough money to tide them over until he can, hopefully, land a job. That decision will change the course of his life, as well as Bella’s, not to mention Robin’s and Erin’s.
It’s hard to predict what someone would do in [Travis’] situation, which was precisely what inspired me to write the book. I wanted to put a good man in those dire straits and see how he’d react.~ Author Diane Chamberlain
Travis is believable, his struggle heartbreaking. He is an earnest young man, trying to make the best of unimaginable circumstances. His devotion to his daughter has never wavered, but he, like so many other Americans, is completely unequipped to deal with the hardships that befall him. As he struggles to find answers, precious Bella invades readers’ hearts with her little pink purse and stuffed lamb that she carries everywhere.
Erin is equally empathetic, her grief authentic. Chamberlain’s background as a social worker prepared her to construct a character barely surviving each day as she undergoes therapy in an attempt to deal with the loss of her only child and the subsequent unraveling of her marriage. As the story opens, Erin has literally run away from home. She moves into a sparsely-furnished apartment, leaving her husband Mike in the home they shared with Carolyn. She is despondent, inconsolable, and unable to stop reliving the night Carolyn died. Mike complains that she “ruminates” on their loss in an unending quest to find answers to questions that have no answer. No one can turn back the clock or say why a little girl was the victim of such a nightmarish accident. The only respite Erin finds is when she interacts with a group of other grieving parents via an online forum. She bristles and is hurt by Mike’s attempts to move their lives forward, feeling that he does not truly grieve Carolyn, rather than recognizing that his grief merely manifests itself differently. To go on with her own life feels like she is abandoning Carolyn and her memory. When Erin is introduced to Travis and Bella at JumpStart, the coffee shop she frequents every morning with her iPad, she is suddenly forced to confront her feelings and the status of her life with Mike.
Lastly, Robin is a young woman with secrets she hopes will never be discovered by Dale and his family. She has become popular, recognized everywhere she goes in Beaumont as Dale’s beautiful young fiancee, and forged a secure future for herself. Forced to remain docile and nonconfrontational by her heart condition, Robin learned not to oppose her father’s wishes and even though she successfully underwent a heart transplant and is now healthy, she has continued her pattern of passive behavior with Dale, who is eleven years her senior. She believes that she loves Dale and is looking forward to their society wedding, but Alissa’s pregnancy stirs emotions in Robin that she has never recognized, acknowledged or worked through. After all, she spent much of her own pregnancy in a near-comatose state, hovering near death until the baby could be delivered by Cesarean section and a donor heart located. She never saw her baby, never bonded with her, and never objected when her father insisted that she be put up for adoption. Like Travis, she was duped by her father, who is now deceased. In addition to learning the truth about his actions, she discovers character traits in Dale that reveal he is very much like his father and bring her love and commitment to him into doubt, even as she finally deals with her long-buried feelings. Robin becomes empowered and finds her own voice. What will she choose now that she knows and embraces the truth?
As Travis finds himself and Bella in danger, Erin and, eventually, Robin are also dragged into the crisis. Chamberlain expertly lays the foundation for what becomes a pulse-pounding adventure. By then readers are thoroughly invested in the characters’ futures, recognizing them as well-intended, but innately flawed and too-often misguided. The dialogue is crisp and the pace accelerates at perfectly-timed intervals as all of the characters’ secrets are eventually revealed.
At its core, The Good Father is an exploration of what that term means. Travis, Erin, and Robin discern what sacrifices they are willing to make as they discover their own capacity to forgive and embrace their futures. The Good Father is a thoroughly satisfying story. I highly recommend it.