Mark is a 911 call center operator. He is also in a biracial marriage to police officer, Starr, and a daddy to two adopted boys, Jarrett and Jory. After an accident in his late teens, which left Mark paralyzed from the waist down, he has been wheelchair bound.
During the week Mark’s life is a routine of the gym, school runs, sports practice with the boys, making dinner, and taking care of Jarrett and Jory’s bedtime. At the weekend he takes the 3pm – 3am shifts at the call center, dealing with serious to ridiculous callers, but still managing to maintain a professional composure.
Mark and Starr’s relationship is a generally happy and committed one, but when Mark allows himself to become jealous and cruel about Starr’s friendship with another man, there is a possibility of him pushing Starr away, and considering the dangerous nature of Starr’s job, there is a chance that this will be permanent.
You Had Me at Hero is the first story I have read by Michael P. Thomas and I really enjoyed his sharp and thoughtful writing. Mark and Starr’s relationship is clearly an established one, but this does not mean that the novella feels stagnant. This is a couple who are still adjusting to the more recent additions to their family: the two boys who Mark and Starr never planned for, but adopted without question after the death of Starr’s niece.
You Had Me at Hero is not a bland story, but Thomas does concentrate upon the everyday details of Mark’s life. To me, this makes Mark more relatable and believable as a character. I think Thomas has worked hard not to present Mark as a protagonist we sympathize with. Yes, he is in a wheelchair, but he does not wallow in self pity and has a can-do attitude. The way in which he lives his life is admirable — not because he has a disability, but because he is unselfish, caring, and determined.
The concept of a ‘hero’ is an important one in this novella. From nine years old, following a neighbourhood fire, Mark wanted to be a firefighter, then a police officer, and then as he moved into his teens he was intent on enlisting in the Army. Until this dream was shattered by his accident. However, I think that Thomas cleverly addresses the idea of unsung heroes — in the home, as well as in the wider world. Mark and Starr are clearly heroes to Jarrett and Jory, who were able to stay within the safe confines of their family, thanks to the couple.
I had never considered the sometimes difficult job of someone who works in an emergency call center. Whilst Thomas reveals the funnier side of Mark’s job, he also addresses the fact that Mark is the person on the end of a phone with an individual in a possibly life-threatening situation. Mark’s demeanor is calm and reassuring, but he is helpless, aside from dispatching the emergency services as soon as possible, though that could save someone’s life.
At one point during You Had Me at Hero I did question whether Thomas was placing too much emphasis upon race issues. However, as a white woman living in the UK I admit that I have no personal comprehension of racial prejudice. I think that in tackling this issue, Thomas challenges his reader and I could completely understand Mark’s anger.
You Had Me at Hero is a thought-provoking novella that builds to a tense and emotional climax. It was a pleasure to read this story and I would recommend it.