BookBrowse Reviews I Saw a Man by Owen Sheers

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I Saw a Man

by Owen Sheers

I Saw a Man by Owen Sheers X
I Saw a Man by Owen Sheers
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2015, 272 pages

    Jul 2016, 272 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Darcie R.J. Abbene
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About this Book



A stunning novel of love, loss and secrets.

I Saw a Man by Owen Sheers is a story about sad people – recent widower, Michael Turner, lets himself into neighbors Josh and Samantha Nelson's house to look for a loaned item he needs. Sheers busts out of the gate with a first sentence that alludes to an "event that changed all their lives" and spends the next 142 pages alluding to the specifics of that event, weaving flashback into Michael's search for the missing item. These flashbacks, although a tiny bit frustrating for an impatient reader, expertly develop character, complicated relationships and a whole lot of emotion that augment the sadness that lead to Michael's moments in the house. Ultimately, the story is not just about sad people but about loss – and how it begets more of it.

"Stories breed stories." A relatively unimportant character exclaims this very important idea early in the novel. The story of Michael and his slow process of grieving and healing after his wife Caroline's accidental death while on assignment in Pakistan becomes terribly connected to another story – Major Daniel McCullen, the drone operator who was ultimately responsible for pulling the trigger on a military operation which resulted in Caroline's death. Although the character of Daniel is not introduced until the reader is well acquainted with Michael, Caroline and the Nelsons, his presence adds another element of sorrow as we learn how Caroline's death plays a role in the devastation of not only Michael's life but also McCullen's.

But the devastation of McCullen's life is only one of a few terrible effects of the drone dropping the missile that killed Caroline. When Michael lets himself into the home of the Nelsons' – the neighbors whom he has become quite close to since moving to the row of houses that butt up against London's largest public garden, Hampstead Heath (See Beyond the Book) – the reader is filled with a tiny bit of dread. Nagging questions persist: Why did he go in the house when obviously no one was there? What is going to happen? Why doesn't he leave? What does he need so badly that he can't wait until someone comes home? Our stubborn sense of foreboding reminds us that nothing ever good comes of going inside a suspiciously empty house. As Michael searches, he begins to examine the things of the Nelsons' life together – their photographs, the furniture, their daughters' artwork – and these things begin to trigger an examination of his own life and wife until he loses his sense of the moment, why he is there and, in one awful moment, a grip on reality.

Sheers' writing is beautifully descriptive. He can masterfully paint the room around the reader so that, not only do we feel as if we are standing in it physically, but we also experience a sense of the emotional atmosphere of the room, whether it is the sense of apprehension, fear, discomfort or, conversely, the ease with which characters interact with each other. He describes Manhattan (where Michael stays while researching a story) in this poetic language, "Each community he saw up there – the Dominicans, the Mexicans, the Irish, the African – seemed like the rings of a tree to him, ethnic watermarks of the island's growth and change". The image captures the variety of community and the way it is fused together.

The story of these few minutes leads to another story and another and they are all sad – and most depressingly – they are all accidents. In the real world, so many sad events linked together might seem unlikely, but what isn't so unusual is that there are, indeed, two sides to every story and there is always a consequence for every action. That is truth and that is what keeps the reader turning the pages.

Reviewed by Darcie R.J. Abbene

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in July 2015, and has been updated for the August 2016 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

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Beyond the Book:
  Hampstead Heath


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