After The Lifeboat (2012), a tightly focused first novel with a morally ambiguous narrator, Rogan takes an opposite approach in this outraged tale of a number of characters impacted by America’s military-industrial juggernaut.
In Oklahoma, 39-year-old Maggie Rayburn quits her secretarial job at a munitions plant after swiping a disturbing document she found on her boss's desk, which said, "Discredit the doctors. Flood the system with contradictory reports." She hides the folder in her house alongside a letter she'd received from local midwife Dolly Jackson that implied the factory is causing health problems in the community. Maggie takes up more causes at her next job, at the local prison: an inmate railroaded by the legal system and the prison’s conspiracy to provide slave labor to the munitions factory. Maggie finds herself at cloak-and-dagger cross-purposes with a cartoonishly evil triumvirate of local power brokers—her former boss at the factory, the head of the prison, and her own minister. More believably, her new sense of purpose endangers her marriage to likable husband Lyle and sets their teenage son, Will, on an unexpected course of self-discovery. Meanwhile, in Iraq, a convoy of soldiers is attacked the same day their tours have been automatically extended for the “surge.” The surviving soldiers return home emotionally wounded. A head injury leaves angry Le Roy Jones able to see life only in binary terms; doctors change the diagnosis of Dolly’s boyfriend, bookish Danny Joiner, from post-traumatic stress disorder to personality disorder—a pre-existing condition—to save the Army money. Capt. Penn Sinclair, feeling guilty that he led them into danger, brings the men back together to create an anti-war website that becomes a magnet for righteous anger. Soon the site broadens its targets to include munitions factories and prisons, and thus is manufactured a tangential connection between the soldiers and Maggie. A complex bundle of motives, Maggie raises provocative questions about the value and cost of moral empathy, but the soldiers’ stories remain schematic at best.
Rogan ends up trumpeting her politics so loudly that she drowns out the emotional response from readers, even those sharing her views.