FREEDOMLAND by Richard Price


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Another grimly convincing portrayal of inner-city despair from the multitalented author of such literate powerhouses as Bloodbrothers (1976) and Clockers (1992). The story’s set, like Clockers, in the New Jersey hellhole of Dempsy, just across the Hudson from New York City, where welfare families, crackheads, and miscellaneous crazies jostle against one another in an ongoing state of simmering crisis punctuated by daily explosions of violence. When a traumatized single white mother, Brenda Martin, reports her car hijacked and her four-year-old son, asleep in the backseat, inadvertently kidnaped by a black man, veteran (black) detective Lorenzo Council and (white) newspaper reporter Jesse Haus are drawn deeply into the twin maelstroms of an already volatile populace further aroused by racial tension and their own separate suspicions about the veracity of Brenda’s harrowing story. Again, as in Clockers, Price juxtaposes his two protagonists’ experiences in a crisp and authoritative sequence of scenes that comprise a virtual primer on urban perils and survival skills; his cops are credibly exhausted and embittered, and his street people both defiantly savvy and long-suffering (only Karen Collucci, who spearheads a neighborhood “group that searches for missing children,” seems slightly overdrawn). Price renders with great power his characters’ mingled emotions of loss, fear, fury, and regret, and his punchy, forthright style nicely accommodates inventive metaphors (at a crime scene, “the media settlement . . . [resembled] a nineteenth century military encampment. The electronic gear hung on the fence like cartridge belts and canteens”). The novel (whose title denotes a rundown “theme park” where crucial climactic events occur) is both generously plotted and honestly attentive to the screwed-up lives of these marvelously realized people. Lorenzo is a triumph, and the embattled, defeated Brenda Martin a fascinatingly complex figure. A book that Raymond Chandler or James T. Farrell would have been proud to claim.

Pub Date: May 20th, 1998
ISBN: 0-7679-0024-3
Page count: 512pp
Publisher: Broadway
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1998


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