Air Force flyer wrestles with her demons during Desert Storm.
In carefully cadenced prose, debut novelist Ponders diffidently explores the fallout from only-child Annie Shaw’s relationship with the distant, cold father she reveres. He was a pilot and Air Force veteran, and Annie wanted to emulate him even as a child, when she preferred eavesdropping on war stories to passing hors d’oeuvres at her parents’ cocktail parties. However, when her father’s infidelities seemingly lead to her mother’s death, she and ruggedly handsome Dad become transients, living with a succession of his mistresses and wives. The section expounding Annie’s childhood is more engrossing than those detailing Annie’s experiences as an Air Force Academy cadet and an anomalous female pilot deployed to Saudi Arabia after the invasion of Kuwait. The military scenes suffer from an excess of downtime and acronyms. A mostly extraneous middle section follows the careers of Annie’s male comrades as they switch war zones, from Kosovo to Kandahar. There are some gripping moments, including a mission during which Annie inadvertently exposes her crew to a missile attack. The affectless narration jumps around in time and shifts from first- to third-person point of view, but the protagonist’s secret self is always held close to her flight vest. A detached reportorial voice, emphasizing physical detail more than psychological depth, glosses over Annie’s feelings of guilt after her mother dies in a house fire. Similarly undocumented are the course of her estrangement from her father and the reasons she married thinly sketched Dexter. When the missile mishap results in a medal rather than court martial thanks to the intervention of ex-lover Jago, Annie’s feelings about the deception are obscured because the facts are laid out so dispassionately.
The narrative lacks thrust, and the flight could be less controlled, but it shows promise of better work to come, once the author stops withholding.