Study Guide

Doug Shoemaker in Tales of the Madman Underground

By John Barnes

Doug Shoemaker

The only time Karl's dad makes an appearance in the book is in flashbacks to Karl's childhood. Even though he's kind of, sort of, well, dead, we here at Shmoop still think he's important enough to get his very own section in this guide. Losing your dad as a teenage boy, after all, is a defining experience, and we're pretty sure Doug had a pretty powerful influence on Karl's life before the story begins.

Doug Shoemaker is kind of a big deal in Lightsburg. "He was the mayor here," Karl's mom says during their ill-fated pizza date for her birthday. "They elected him three times, and Shoemaker Avenue is named after his great-grandpa" (2.67). See? Big deal.

Not only that, but he was also a World War II vet. "He was no hero type or anything," Karl tells us, "he jumped for every clerking job he could find, said he'd personally fought the Japs all the way back to Tokyo with his adding machine" (2.61). Karl's dad was also known for being fair in his politics, a decision that cost him re-election when he refused to go along with the plan to build a low-quality subdivision in Lightsburg.

At home, though, Karl's dad didn't exactly keep up the façade of a well-groomed politician. He was an alcoholic who fought constantly with his wife and was prone to angry outbursts, especially when young Karl outed himself as a Communist on his birthday. And then, after all that, he dies of lung cancer when Karl was in eighth grade. Having your dad be a local legend is bad enough; having him die when you're not even in high school is worse.

A lot of this book is about Karl sorting out his complex feelings about his dad—anger about the way he treated his mom, residual fear over the fights, and grief over his death that he hasn't dealt with at all. By the end of his five-day adventure, though, Karl seems to have gained some perspective about who his dad was and is able to see him, in spite of everything, as having admirable qualities. In particular, he remembers his dad getting clean right before he died and teaching Karl to take care of the house when he is gone. "He was dying, but life was better than it ever had been," Karl tells Gratz. "I loved that." Aw.