A Reason to Be: A Novel by Norman McCombs begins in the Scottish highlands with the great battle of independence of the MacTomas clan from Chief Mackintosh. After that rousing introduction, it’s quite a letdown to meet the main character Douglas McCombs who is struggling with depression. It wasn’t clear whether his wife Hope, who had Alzheimer’s, was removed to a long-term care facility or died. Later in the book, there’s an incident where Hope’s friend attacks Douglas for abandoning his wife, which seemed to imply she was still alive.
Regardless of what has happened to his wife, Douglas finds a new lease on life by investigating his genealogy. The segments that provide a glimpse of his ancestors were fascinating. However, the switch back to the present day, even with the blossoming love between Douglas and the librarian seemed stilted. There’s mention that Douglas is holding something back in the relationship, and it seems implied that it’s that his wife is still alive at some points of the story. (NOTE: The author says that the proof edition I read has been changed and the wife is no longer living in the final version.) Douglas believes the new love interest has something holding her back from the relationship. Never fear, though. The reader is magically transported into the librarian’s mind, so everything is clear to us, if not to poor Douglas.
I would have liked to have been given a family tree someplace in the book so that I could keep track of the jumps through history. The historical sections were prefaced with some information about the family member, but there’s nothing like a visual to help organize the timeline of events. It also would have helped to keep track of the variations in the spelling of the last name through the years from MacThomas to Macomb.
The novel is advertised as semi-autobiographical. Just as Douglas, the main character, the author Norman McCombs is a White House National Medal of Technology and Innovation winner. However, Douglas never seems to be as three-dimensional as the characters in the past, which is a shame, because the author would be an interesting fellow to meet.
I received an ARC of this book from the publisher.