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Freedom Road


Freedom Road

You won’t need a bookmark to read FREEDOM ROAD. That’s because you’ll want to tackle it in one straight sitting from first paragraph to last. Author William Lashner makes that quite easy. While most novels may seem to run out of gas, however momentarily, Lashner demonstrates that he has a few auxiliary tanks strapped onto his brilliant, addictive narrative and never comes close to running low. This is quite an accomplishment, particularly when it is almost crystal clear after the first couple of chapters that things are going to end badly.

Oliver Cross, the craggy septuagenarian protagonist, bears emotional and physical scars and injuries incurred recently and remotely, the greatest of those being the death of his wife, Helen. Oliver is alone in every sense of the word. He was transformed in the fires of the riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago into a man who rebelled against his father and whose son rebelled against him in a most ironic fashion.

"FREEDOM ROAD is beautifully written and wonderfully told, with neither element sacrificing or distracting from the other.... [T]here are passages throughout that you will want to mark, underline or write down."

Fifty years later, Oliver is a newly minted ex-convict whose closest relationship is with his (almost) unrelentingly patient and cheerful parole officer. He spends his days sitting and drinking, full of bitterness and anger while occasionally stroking the lump on his neck. What gets him up and moving is the sudden disappearance of his teenage granddaughter Erica, last seen in the company of Frank Cormack, a sometime folk singer and failed drug dealer. Erica and Frank are making their slow way towards the West Coast, with vague plans of traveling to and living in Europe. Erica’s motivations are idealistic, while Frank’s are out of necessity, given that he has stolen money, a drug stash and a computer from a very dangerous Russian criminal. This is not the first time that Frank has embarked on a foolish course, but this time he is dragging an unsuspecting Erica into terrible danger.

Oliver --- accompanied by Ayana, a streetwise teenage friend of Erica, and Hunter, an all-but-abandoned dog --- follows Frank and Erica’s trail to Frank’s old stomping grounds in Chicago, hoping that he can get there and retrieve Erica before the Russian does. It was in the Windy City where Oliver’s physical and emotional slow slide from grace began, and the circle of his life becomes all the more apparent when he ultimately finds Frank and Erica at the remnants of the organic farm where he and Helen made their tentative steps toward crafting the Utopia they sought. This leads to a last stand full of twists, turns and redemption before the enigmatic ending is played out and the final secret of the book is revealed.

FREEDOM ROAD is beautifully written and wonderfully told, with neither element sacrificing or distracting from the other. As I stated earlier, you won’t need a bookmark, but there are passages throughout that you will want to mark, underline or write down. One is a paragraph about high school seniors on the cusp of their own futures. Another discusses a classic rock band and contains so much truth in a few sentences that it is a wonder it does not burst the binding of the book. An extended passage at the midway point describes an impromptu gathering of friends where old wounds are ripped open rather than being healed. It’s been done before, but never so well.

Throughout the course of his career, Lashner has proven himself incapable of writing badly. However, FREEDOM ROAD is a cut above. It’s a keeper, a story that neither age nor the fleetness of memory will erase from you. Oh, and let the chapter titles --- each taken from popular songs of the last century --- be your background music as you read. Set all else aside for this bittersweet tale.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 25, 2019

Freedom Road
by William Lashner

  • Publication Date: January 22, 2019
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
  • ISBN-10: 1503904466
  • ISBN-13: 9781503904460