With author Michael O’Brien there are certain things you come to expect in his novels. Deep character sketches so well-crafted that the words almost demand that the person depicted be more than just fictional. Characters who are emotionally wounded, physically wounded, or a combination of this. A spiritual dimension that is just not a polish to the story, but an integral part of it. Cultural commentary and even art criticism are also components.
In his new novel “The Father’s Tale” the story is told of Alex Graham a bookseller and widower who has withdrawn from life and into his books. A basically good and pious man who after his wife’s death has kept to himself avoiding any societal entanglements. His staid life is fractured when his college-age son disappears.
Michael O’Brien calls this novel “A modern retelling of the parables The Good Shepherd and The Prodigal Son.” which is a very apt description. In this regards it reminds me favorably of Ron Hansen’s “Atticus” another book I loved. The Prodigal Son theme is at several levels. Alex Graham while looking for his prodigal son is himself a prodigal son in relationship to God the Father. Other characters fall into this theme also. Alex Graham embarks on a world-wide chase after his son in a nightmare journey that is also a dark night of the soul. The feeling of the loss of God combines with alienation from the world around him as he comes to seemingly lose all support. His journey is a purgative road where he meets many people along the way in the search for his son.
At over a 1000 pages this is not a simple adventure story and a rescuing of a son, but something deeper and richer. Again you can see aspects of Michael O’Brien the iconographer in his writing along with the theological emphasis of the Eastern Catholic and Orthodox Churches. This aspect especially shines through here. O’Brien certainly has a tendency to monologue via his characters at times, but I forgive him this because he has something to say that is worth hearing. You might think there should have been plenty of room for an editor to scale back the size of the book, but there is not a section I would have wanted cut. The novel left me both entertained and thoughtful afterwards. The plot itself took so many twists and turns that I came to not be able to anticipate what was going to happen next other than the general flow of the theme. It is always hard to evaluate a novel fresh after reading it in comparison to the author’s other novels. Regardless, I feel this is his finest novel to date.
The Ignatius Press audiobook version is again done by Kevin O’Brien. I listen to a fair amount of professionally done audiobooks and i would place Kevin O’Brien skills in the upper tier. His ensemble of voices and performance brings something extra to an already good story.