Published by Nan A. Talese
Publication date: June 9th 2015
Genres: Contemporary, Fiction
Michael knew Caroline’s job was dangerous when he married her. As a foreign correspondent her field of interest was the Middle East and while he was also a writer his inspiration came from stillness and hers from motion. They both told the stories of people
But where Michael always retreated to his desk to tell his stories Caroline had simply moved on to the next. For her their telling was a need, a hunger. Her belief in the truth being told was almost fanatical, whatever the outcome of a story’s exposure.
Given her penchant for being in the midst of dangerous events it was never far from Michael’s mind that he could lose her at any time. That it would be to an American drone strike is beyond his comprehension. I Saw a Man by Owen Sheers follows not only Michael after Caroline’s death but also Daniel McCullen, the Air Force pilot who guided the Predator drone with the missile that killed her.
Michael moves to a small flat near London to try and rebuild his life and is befriended by the family next door. Their young daughters and the normalcy of their lives start providing him relief from his loneliness. At the same time thousands of miles away, the opposite is true for Daniel who is haunted by his role in killing Caroline. Despite having been a bomber pilot with numerous tours of duty under his belt this new kind of warfare is his undoing. Where once a pilot would drop bombs and never see the human damage, satellites mean that Daniel sees in graphic detail the results of these missiles—much in the way soldiers on the ground see the result of their bullets. In an effort to work through his guilt, he decides to write to Michael and ask his forgiveness.
He was tired of being unseen. Of being dislocated from his actions. Of witnessing but never being witnessed. He wanted to own his life, and he knew that meant owning all of it.
In this way, Sheers uses I Saw a Man to venture into the controversial territory of drone warfare. We see not only the grief and shattered lives left behind by those killed but also the psychological burden carried by the killers. That he does so on such a personal level, without drawing moral conclusions, means the pain strikes that much harder.
The stories of Michael and Daniel are enough to make I Saw a Man compelling reading but Sheers adds another significant plot twist and as much as I love twisty plots this one strains the novel’s credibility. It plays into the novel’s themes of accidental death, responsibility and forgiveness but in a sensationalistic and drawn out way that pulls attention away from the very real issues at hand. Sheers covers so much ground with his thoughtful prose that this additional drama, the ensuing mystery and the confusion it provokes diminishes the novel’s power and makes for a lackluster ending.