25 August 2015

BOTM: 'Freedom's Child' by Jax Miller

Our August "Book of the Month": Freedom's Child.

The author: Jax Miller.

The genre: rural noir, Southern Gothic - a chase thriller with hints of horror.

The time: 1989 to the present.

The places: smalltown Oregon, rural Kentucky, Mastic Beach on New York's Long Island.

The central character: Freedom Oliver, aka Nessa Delaney, is a "strikingly beautiful", angry fortysomething. She has panic attacks and alcoholic blackouts, stops taking her meds, starts thinking about suicide, and is either mentally ill or "merely eccentric" ("It's like constantly hosting a huge party for all these guests you really don't care for").

The plot: Disjointed, disorienting, bleak, improbable, with frequent flashbacks and switches in point of view.
Freedom Oliver works in the local biker bar. She's a kick-ass, head-butting redhead. Locals know she likes a drink or ten. What they don't know is that she has been in witness protection for 18 years, after two years in jail on charges of  killing her abusive husband. 
He was an NYPD cop and member of the monstrous Delaney clan. 
Freedom regrets her decision, taken while in prison, to put her two kids up for adoption. They were raised by religious zealots in Kentucky, but her son was kicked out and is now a high-flying lawyer who defends rapists.
When her daughter goes missing, Freedom slips her handlers to search for her. But as she speeds across state lines on a stolen motorbike, her dead husband's sadistic family also set out for revenge.
The pace: as hyperactive as the central character.

Why we liked? The heroine is both fierce and fragile, the town drunk who can morph into Tank Girl.

She encounters an over-the-top cast of characters: rednecks, religious cults, a Native American shaman, neo-Nazis, a criminal matriarch bigger than Jabba the Hutt, and a surfeit of Southern cliches (country music on the jukebox, everyone in Nowheresville chews tobacco and so on).

With all its graphic novel qualities and its gutsy pace, the book has big-screen adaptation written all over it.

Anything we didn't like? Many chapters begin "My name is Freedom and...".

It's as if Freedom is trying to convince herself of her new identity. While this device helps to steady readers as the story rushes along, some will find it intensely annoying.

The breathless prose can also becomes ragged at the edges: "Beside him is his mother, Carol, as they hold each other in front of the cameras at the family's old church, the Third-Day Adventists, teary-eyed and looking twenty years older than what they used to."

To compensate, there will be a snappy gem two or three pages later, such as when a doctor says of a patient in E&R: "His jaw's wired tighter than Alcatraz."

The publishers: HarperCollins.
Check out more of our Books of the Month