Richard Haddaway’s 30 years in the newspaper business might have prepared him for some kind of hard-boiled post-career nonfiction writing—some kind of book hardened by the cynicism that is the stock in trade of daily journalism. Instead, his new novel, “A Little Something,” explores the heart. His ability to imagine a family facing tragedy and its aftershocks offer nearly the opposite of cynicism—this is a story of grace, a reminder of the tenuousness of life, and the fragility of family ties.
It is impossible to discuss the book without mentioning plot-spoiling details—a ten-year-old boy is hit in the face at a Little League Game and then goes into a coma after suffering oxygen loss, left unattended at the dentist’s office, where his father had taken him to repair damaged teeth.
The boy’s world closes-in as his health situation continues to deteriorate. There is little hope that he will recover, but the decision to let him go, to pull the plug, so to speak, is discussed though each parent’s point-of-view, and includes realistic amounts of denial, grief, acting out, anger, and, finally, acceptance. “A Little Something” becomes a character study of a marriage, two parents during the worst days of their lives, and the journey of a man and woman through the death of their only child.
The question of whether to sustain a brain-dead child on life support or to let him go is, of course, a dramatically potent proposition, but Haddaway avoids melodrama, chosing, instead, to focus on the pathway each parent makes in letting their son go. Haddaway also chooses not to avoid the realities of the science of death, but balances this with the metaphysical realities of human grieving. It is this skillful passage between moment-by-moment storytelling, and more Haddaway’s more philosophical concerns, which demonstrate not only great skill on the writer’s part, but great empathy. He offers a lesson about tragedy—how it can sometimes offer the potential for human growth.