'You could block things from your mind for years at a time. You could make them go away because you know that if you let them in, the pain could nearly kill you.'
As this novel begins, we meet Travis Brown and his little daughter Bella. Travis has had a run of bad luck, losing his regular work in construction and also losing his home. It leaves him in desperate need of a new job, but despite his searches, there is little available, and as a result, he ultimately takes on a role against his better judgement, simply because he sees no other way out, and it will mean he can earn enough money to try and make a difference to their lives. Travis is in his early twenties and raising his little girl alone, without her mother Robin. He is the most prominent good father of the novel's title, and he cherishes Bella; everything he does is driven by his love for her and his need to care for her and bring her up well. When he meets Erin, a kind lady who he deems trustworthy and who takes an instant liking to Bella as they meet each morning in the coffee shop, he decides to trust her with the most precious thing he has.
I really liked the structure of this novel. Three narrators, Travis, Robin and Erin, and the author alternates between them to give us three different views of events. The starting point is a glimpse into the future, and it was interesting to then be taken back into the past, knowing that this scene was coming up, and seeing it from different viewpoints. Gradually, the past is revealed and we find out about Erin's own huge private tragedy, we discover the romance that Travis and Robin shared when they were younger, and we learn how and why Robin couldn't keep her own daughter or be involved in her upbringing. All three of them have personal battles to overcome, and are forced to confront the things that frighten them the most, or hold them back, in order to take back control of their own lives. The narrative builds to a tense climax as events come to a head.
I enjoyed this story. It is character driven, but equally the plot is riveting too. I was keen to find out how things would progress for all three of the main characters. The writer evidently carefully depicted the relationship between Travis and his father, and Robin and her father too, and brought these into the story; I think Travis's relationship with his father influenced how well he cared for Bella. Travis tells us: 'My father'd never broken a promise to me, and I remembered how that felt, knowing I could always trust him no matter what.' Back when Robin and Travis were together, the closeness of Travis and his father is noticed by her too, and we learn of another man who fits the novel's title: 'I loved my own father and I would have said we were close, but Travis's father was almost like a best friend to him. A really, really good father.' Robin Robin's relationship with her potential future sister-in-law Alissa is also well constructed and allows for Robin's changing perception of herself and the admission to herself of her true feelings.
I think Diane Chamberlain really is a consistently good writer, creating readable, engrossing stories about relationships and families, life and love, and she creates believable, flawed characters that the reader really comes to care about and root for. I always look forward to reading her books, and haven't been disappointed by one yet.