Atticus, a deeply affecting novel by Ron Hansen, opens in winter on the high plains of Colorado to the tropics of Mexico, as well as from the realm of whodunit detective mystery to the larger realm of the Mystery, which has its own heartbreaking, consoling, and redemptive logic. Misunderstanding, dissolute, prodigal, wayward, wastrel, alias, and bribery are only a few words that tell the powerful story of Atticus. The case was labeled as a suicide. The body was identified as forty-year-old Scott William Cody, a blue-eyed white male.
The plot of the book takes three sharp turns. It begins as a conventional novel about the relationship between a father and his troubled adult son. After one character dies, it zigs into a murder mystery, and by the end has zagged into something entirely different, a parable, let’s say, in which characters find redemption. Atticus Cody, Colorado cattle rancher turned oilman, appears at first to be a remote and judgmental dad, but as we observe the gentle, persistent concern he shows for his wayward son Scott, we discover nothing less than the ideal dad. Scott’s testing of his father’s love goes way beyond normal bounds: his alcoholism and general irresponsibility actually cause the deaths of several other characters. Scott’s peregrinations take Atticus from his home in Colorado to the slums and bohemian underworld of a Mexican town. There, Atticus confronts a seamy and labyrinthine corruption that tries to separate him from the love of his son.
Atticus, the Father, won’t let go, and that’s the point. In my humble opinion, the message of the book is that an ultimately moving meditation on the ineffable, unmatchable love between a parent and a child should always be a close bond, because you might not have a second chance for reconciliation. Atticus Cody receives a surprise Christmas visit from Scott, his estranged son who has been leading the life of a wastrel expatriate in Mexico. The friction between them is electric, and despite Atticus’s profound love for his son he is unable to overcome the differences between them, and Scott returns to Mexico with their conflicts unresolved. Any hopes for reconciliation end when Scott supposedly commits suicide a few weeks later. Atticus journeys to Mexico to recover the body and he uncovers the story of his son’s death, fitting together the pieces of mosaic that was Scott’s life in Mexico–and encountering a group of disturbing characters along the way.
Upon learning the circumstances surrounding his son’s death, Atticus begins to suspect Scott was murdered. Unsatisfied with the police investigation, the sixty-seven year old father begins his own, struggling to comprehend the enigma of Scott’s life and final days. It is an investigation that leads Atticus to an unexpected, but emotionally satisfying conclusion. Scott alias Reinhardt Schmidt, finally stopped the charade and disclosed his true identity and reunited with his father, bringing them closer than ever before. Scott Cody was in a lot of turmoil. He felt as if he was nothing, and couldn’t do anything productive with his life. He was suicidal and was treated for it, where he also madly fell in love with Renata, his on-and-off girlfriend. He felt devastated when he lost her to another man. Scott was in even greater trouble when he was involved in a hit-and-run accident, where he killed a seventeen-year-old girl. The girl’s boyfriend went after Scott, and accidentally murdered Reinhardt Schmidt instead of Scott. Scott realizes that will be a dead man if he doesn’t take on Schmidt’s identity. But soon enough, Scott realizes all the devastation that he brought to his family and to his friends, and so then he decides to unfold the truth behind his identity. I think I speak for everyone when I say this, we usually take people for granted. We don’t talk the way we should, or express ourselves to the fullest. We later regret our behaviors when it’s too late. Each day is a new day, and no one can really predict the contents, whether its good or bad. We should all treat each other with respect and love for one another, and treasure every moment you have with one another, because you never know what life will have in store for you. The author braids his plot so intricately that things are never quite what they seem. Though “Atticus” is a book one wants to race through to find out what’s happened — and the news is indeed shocking — it demands pauses to admire the prose. Here is the sound of a Mexican jitney: “The pandemonium in the engines was like iron pans being clapped together.” Here, the look of a gin mill after a shooting: “Tatters and silks of gunsmoke still hung by the ceiling.” And in Colorado, the snow “strayed over the geography as though recalling how it was to be water.” In the splendid “Atticus,” Ron Hansen displays both an unblinking eye and a forgiving heart.