Portrayals of single fathers seem to fall into only a few tired and clichéd tropes-the fun-loving, weekend dad, the deadbeat dad behind on his child support payments, the “my ex is a bitch so all women are bitches” bitter single dad and the completely absent dad who disappears from his children’s lives.
Fortunately, Mike Mullen from William J. McGee’s novel Half the Child is none of those things when it comes to being a single dad.
On the surface Mike seems like a regular guy. He’s a loving and devoted father to his little boy Ben. He works as an air traffic controller at LaGuardia while working on his master’s degree in psychology. He comes from a loving, yet at times, testing Irish Catholic family.
But Mike is also going through a contentious divorce that will turn his world upside down, especially when it comes to both his personal and professional life.
Divided into four distinct chapters called books, Half the Child follows four consecutive summers in the lives of Mike and Ben.
In the beginning, Mike is separated from Ben’s mother and they are on the verge of getting a divorce. It isn’t long before the divorce turns sour and Mike’s ex abducts Ben and leaves the country.
This sets off Mike into a nightmarish tailspin as he fights for his parental rights, which affects his personal life, including a budding romance. It affects him physically, emotionally, and mentally. Professionally, Mike is a mess. Mike begins to suffer a deep depression and often contemplates suicide. How will he cope with every obstacle that comes his way? What will happen to his relationship with Ben? Is it beyond repair? How will survive Mike survive this nightmare? All I know is I read this book with bated breath, turning page after page, hoping there would be some light at the end of the tunnel entrapping Mike.
Written by someone of lesser talent, Half the Child would come across as way too over the top to be believed. But McGee is a thoughtful and gifted writer whose “voice” rings true. Every character is rich in detail, no matter how major or minor. And the various scenarios in Half the Child are shown, not merely told.
At turns, Half the Child is heartbreaking and hopeful. It is filled with suspense, humor, anger, and intimacy, truly a grand achievement in story-telling. McGee is a writer to watch for, and I can’t wait to read more of his work.