Review: Owen Sheers’s ‘I Saw A Man’ Examines Grief and Responsibility
July 12, 2015
By SARAH LYALL
Something very bad has happened, we learn in the first sentence of Owen Sheers’s new novel, “I Saw A Man,” something that “changed all of their lives.” (We are not yet sure whose lives these are.) It happened because one day, during a wiltingly steamy heat wave in London, a man named Michael Turner stepped through the open back door of his neighbors’ apparently empty house…..
The collateral damage of war has long been a preoccupation of Mr. Sheers, and it is a thread in “I Saw A Man,” too, but it takes a while to realize that. He is particularly good on the ravages of grief. You can hear his poet’s voice in his sharp, taut and often lyrically beautiful language: Josh and Samantha are “honeycombed with disappointment”; the bereaved are like “life prisoners and locked-in sufferers.” At a chilling moment that tilts everything slightly, Michael is startled by something he sees in Josh’s expression — a look of “long-held animosity, not a sudden aversion.”
Sometimes the plot can strain credibility, but Mr. Sheers’s writing is so psychologically astute that it hardly matters. By the end, the questions grow more profound, addressing storytelling itself — how it can mislead but also how it can transform. Stories that go untold, Michael thinks, remembering a conversation he had with his wife, are “like landfill, unseen but still there, seeping into the soil.”
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