Award-winning novel from a first-time author.
Ethan Winter works for a Wall Street bank. Jessica Aldridge is an Air Force sergeant based in Nevada. What unites them is the war on terror. Ethan has developed an algorithm that allows his employer and their clients to profit from market fluctuations caused by anti-terrorist activities. As a drone pilot, Jessica launches missiles at suspected terrorists in the Middle East. Technological innovation has given them both power over the lives of others that would have been unimaginable in the not-too-distant past; however, neither Ethan nor Jessica is a figure of authority in the hierarchies in which they operate, and both prove to be expendable. Childress has the makings of a thriller here, but he clearly has other aims. The winner of the PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction, this novel is devoid of anything that even approaches entertainment—and that includes drama and emotional impact. The narrative follows Ethan and Jessica after they’re cut adrift from the institutions in which they had planned to spend their lives, but the crises that serve as catalysts happen so early in the story that the reader has little sense of what it is, really, that these protagonists are losing and little reason to care. Major events happen offstage, and scenes that should be crackling with tension—such as Ethan’s firing and Jessica’s discharge—are strangely bloodless. Childress’ characters succeed neither as abstract symbols nor as actual people. Ethan and Jessica may be victims of systems of corruption, but they’re also victims of their own dumb mistakes; they’re screw-ups, not martyrs.
Socially engaged but otherwise unengaging.