Thursday, December 24, 2015

Review: "Freedomland" by Richard Price

For the third year in a row, I pick up a book that I read at an earlier time, one that I feel I didn’t give a fair shake to the first time and has been bumping around in my brain ever since. The first time, I re-read Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, and gave it my highest rating, and placing it among Kafka on the Shore and 1Q84 as three of his monolithic titles. Last year, I re-read Donna Tartt’s The Little Friend, and found it worse the second time, proving that the Southern Gothic setting is out of this talented writer’s range. This year, I’m glad to say, was a success, and after re-reading Richard Price’s Freedomland, as a smarter, more intuitive 27-year old, I can say, without a doubt it is his best book. I started thinking about it after Clockers floored me back in 2013. His dialogue is as good as anybody’s, and he crafts his settings carefully and brilliantly, setting up these fictionalized ghetto metropolises as a sort of mechanized version of hell on Earth, and the characters who find themselves stuck in it, whether through bad luck or their own sins, must find a way out of the spiritual and physical destruction that awaits them. Clockers is his most entertaining novel, but Freedomland, on my second reading, is his most urgent novel, the one most steeped in brilliant allegory and mixed emotions, using a story pulled from the headlines, and telling a story that is heartbreaking, intense and painfully true. I won’t get into a lot of the details, since I have read it already and reviewed it, but it is partly based on the Susan Smith case, where a woman drowned her kids and blamed it on a black man who didn’t exist. The details here a bit different, and Price uses them to look at how it affects two communities on the border of one another, separated by a mere streetlight, yet worlds apart. At the center of this tornado are Lorenzo Council, a grizzled detective tasked with investigating the crime, Brenda Martin, the woman whose child has been missing and a reporter named Jesse, whose motives walk a tightrope between good intentioned and brutally selfish. What struck me on this second reading that didn’t on the first was the vivid, intimate scenes between these fully developed characters, helped by Price’s masterful dialogue, which is rhythmic and truthful to the core, yet masks emotions when they need to be hidden. Scenes like Jesse grilling Lorenzo’s partner, Bump, on details with the promise of doing a positive story on his successful son, the talk she has with Brenda’s ex, who describes a date that ended in an act of unnerving desperation and the times Lorenzo must deal with the criminals and misguided community leaders who want to use this tragedy, and the lie at the heart of it, for political gain and a mandate to cause carnage, juxtaposed with an earlier scene where Lorenzo indicts the very same community for not speaking up when members of that community are killed by one of their own. This is a very sad book indeed, but one that moved me almost to tears on a second reading, delving deep into the American consciousness and the consciousness of every human being struggling with a world intent on eating itself, and what it takes to survive with your soul intact.

Rating: 5/5

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