Posts Tagged ‘Owen Sheers’

I Saw A Man (but didn’t care)

August 3, 2015

I Saw A Man

I Saw A Man by Owen Sheers

If you wear glasses, you probably own a pocket-size minuscule screwdriver set, which is sold in most big box pharmacies. If a minuscule screw connecting the arm of the eyeglasses to the frame has loosened up, the minuscule screwdriver, handled by someone with better eyesight than you, will come to the rescue and tighten things up.


Why is this important to mention? 1) Because a minuscule screwdriver figures prominently in this novel by Owen Sheers; and 2) Because I am buying time. I’m reluctant to write about a book I didn’t particularly enjoy.

The review I read in The New York Times misled me to this book (you can click the link above to read the review). Lately, more times that I can count, I have been fooled by book reviews, been too eager to accept as gospel laudatory reviews from respected sources that seem to have been, in retrospect, fueled by the publicity machinery at work in the publishing industry. Often, I am left wondering, after reading the latest hyped publication, what happened to all the great editors? Most likely, it has to do with the sorry state of economics of the new world order.

At any rate, I Saw A Man by Owen Sheers.

The novel opens when protagonist Michael Turner, a youngish writer from England (as is the author), walks over to the house next door to retrieve the minuscule screwdriver he had lent the day before to Josh, his running buddy and neighbor.

Michael is suddenly in need of his minuscule screwdriver, but the author does not inform the reader as to why. The quest for the mini screwdriver reads like flimsy pretext, a not-that-imaginative means employed by the author to get Michael inside Josh’s home.

On arrival, Michael finds the door ajar. He lets himself in, calls out after Josh and his wife, Samantha. No one answers. His deck shoes muddy from gardening, he slips them off and pads around the first floor barefoot, checking for signs of life. He climbs the stairs to the second floor. He snoops around in their master bathroom. Pretty ballsy of him, I would say.

Yet, from the start, the reader gets the impression that the author wants to elicit sympathy for Michael, as he tells us very early on — and, therefore, not a spoiler — that Michael is bereft over the recent death of his wife in an explosion.

In the bathroom, Michael gets a whiff of Samantha’s cologne from a bottle sitting on the vanity. Turns out, it’s the very same fragrance worn by his deceased wife. (This presents some interesting implications in the reader’s mind re a possible coupling in the future between Samantha and Michael, but the author chooses not to develop this foreshadowing tease any further). Instead, the fragrance transports Michael into a sort of mystical reverie, a visual hallucination starring his dead wife…while the reader is then condemned to dwell in flashback. A very long flashback.

The suspense built up at the beginning of the novel has fizzled. The momentum has come to a standstill.

Unfortunately, the structure of the novel maintains this same pattern throughout: one or two sentences describing the present situation, followed by a chunk of lengthy flashback and backstory. And so it goes. And goes.

Fast forwarding to the end of the book, there is a critical “reveal,” upon which the outcome of the entire story hinges. But this revelation and how it is revealed feels as contrived as the mini screwdriver ploy constructed at the beginning of the novel.

In an excerpt from the Times review, the journalist says this about the book:

“Sometimes the plot can strain credibility, but Mr. Sheers’s writing is so psychologically astute that it hardly matters.” 

I beg to differ. As psychologically astute as a writer may or may not be, (I don’t happen to agree with this reviewer regarding the psychological astuteness of the writer), it certainly does matter if the plot strains credibility. When a story feels manufactured, the reader feels cheated and manipulated.

I wanted to like this book. Owen Sheers is an artful writer. He composes beautiful sentences. But right from the beginning and again at the end, I was not able to overlook, could not get past, the artifice of that mini screwdriver.