In his debut novel, Zobal (The Inconvenience of the Wings, 2015) casts an empathetic eye on the unraveling of a good man, soul-damaged by war, who attempts to reclaim his home and family.
Dominick Clarke Sawyer was a U.S. Army Ranger who saw combat action in Kosovo, Iraq, and Afghanistan while his wife, Sarah, 15-year-old son, Clarke, and preteen daughter, Kingsley, remained at home in Pennsylvania. But there were ever increasing stress, uncertainties, and, later, vicious arguments when he returned home between deployments. On his last furlough, Dom awakes to find Sarah gone. He tells his children their mother will be away for a while, but soon child welfare services gets involved. The deputy sheriff is sent to visit Dom, and then he too disappears. That brings in the FBI, who only find Dom and his children gone. In strobe-light-flash chapters, Zobal follows the physically imposing, stoic, yet deeply emotional Dom as he shepherds his brood from Pennsylvania to Maine (a beautifully rendered seashore idyll) to Illinois (where an emotionally damaged girl joins them, adding a new perspective), and finally to Washington state, where Dom finds that one more pillar on which he’s built his life has collapsed. Zobal’s narrative is a powerful dissection of the damage war inflicts on soldiers and families alike. Dom is a flawed hero, but he’s portrayed with cleareyed empathy. Clarke is Dom unformed, worried, protective of his sister; Kingsley embodies fearfulness, tears, and pain yet she keeps her heart open to love. The novel is made far better by having FBI agent Charlie Basin as a second protagonist. Charlie has struggled with his inability to fully relate to his depressed college-age daughter, a struggle he sometimes sees reflected in Dom's ongoing tragedy. Zobal reveals himself to be a writer of distinctive power, especially with immersions into Dom’s fugue states and often impressionistic descriptions—"a pale fog began to gather against the ground and catch at the edges of things."
A powerful, moving allegory that reflects how post–9/11 missteps scarred the American soul.