Tuesday, May 26, 2015

FREEDOM'S CHILD :: Jax Miller

"I swear to God, it's rained every day since I was born."

Nessa Delaney couldn't have picked a worse family to marry into. The Delaneys, "a name attached to trouble and whiskey tolerance," are headed up by 600-pound, coke-dealing matriarch Lynn, who makes a lucrative living abusing the welfare system as well as her five sons (Matthew, Mark, Peter, Luke, and John - oh yes, Lynn is a good Irish Catholic), born from as many fathers.

But as it is with families whose DNA is steeped in drugs and violence, things don't go well for Nessa. She spent two years in jail for killing her husband, NYPD officer Mark Delaney (who, in pure Delaney style, became a cop to score dope and demand respect), where she gave birth to her second child, Rebekah. With Nessa in jail and Mark dead, Rebekah and older brother Mason were adopted out for their own protection to an "esteemed reverend" in Goshen, Kentucky, Virgil Paul, and his obedient wife Carol.

As Jax Miller's Freedom's Child begins, Nessa has been in witness protection for 18 years after turning the tables and testifying against Matthew Delaney, implicating him in Mark's death. She's living far from the Delaneys in Painter, Oregon, tending bar in a rock pub called the Whammy Bar, and going by her chosen name, Freedom Oliver. Freedom is far from free, wracked with guilt she tries to tamp down with alcohol, violent rages, a "suicide jar" she fills with pills, and frequent letters to her children she (almost) never sends.

Back on the East Coast, Matthew Delaney has just been released from an 18-year prison stint. With Matthew back to guide them, to be Lynn's eyes and ears on the "journey to kill her ex-daughter-in-law," the Delaneys are hell-bent on revenge, and it doesn't take long for the planning to start:

Metallica plays in the background as they spend the morning catching up. But the time's come to talk about the very topic that has brought such a cloud over the family for so long: Nessa Delaney. Find her. Find her kids, the niece and nephew they never knew. Bring them home. Make the family complete once again...With their hearts racing with drugs, anticipation, and obedience they leave.   

Then word trickles out that Rebekah has gone missing, increasing the action that will bring multiple family factions on a collision course. Mason, banned from the Paul church, is now a lawyer in New York who keeps in touch with Rebekah through a fake Facebook page. When there's been no activity for days, Mason starts to investigate. Freedom also learns of Rebekah's disappearance, and despite the danger posed by Matthew's release, she heads out on a cross-country trek to find the daughter she only knew for two minutes and seventeen seconds.

Of course, chasing the same trail are the bound-for-blood Delaney boys, and since everyone is looking for the same thing, they're all bound to cross paths eventually. But Rebekah isn't the only girl gone missing in Goshen, Kentucky, and everyone ends up in a much more complex and dangerous situation than they bargained for.  

I was sucked into Freedom's Child right out of the gate, with one of the more powerful Preface sections I've read in some time:

My name is Freedom Oliver and I killed my daughter. It's surreal, honestly, and I'm not sure what feels more like a dream, her death or her existence. I'm guilty of both. It wasn't long ago that this field would ripple and rustle with a warm breeze, gold dancing under the blazes of a high noon sun. The Thoroughbreds, a staple of Goshen, would canter along the edges of Whistler's Field. If you listen close enough, you can almost hear the laughter of farmers' children still lace through the grain, a harvest full of innocent secrets of the youthful that needed an escape but didn't have anywhere else to go. Like my Rebekah, my daughter.

I enjoyed Freedom's Child a great deal, and was impressed with it as a debut offering from Jax Miller. It's not for the faint of heart, it's caustic and coarse, but if it's action you're after, this will certainly fit the bill. Freedom herself is fairly caustic and coarse, and may be found unlikable by some. It shouldn't matter, the plot is worth the ride and I felt fully invested in it, but I found Freedom to be a sympathetic character capable of redemption despite her rawness and demons.

The story deals with some difficult subject matter, and it helps that the writing is really beautiful in places and also shows a good dash of well-placed, though often base, humor. I book-darted quite a few passages along the way. The writing is also nicely lean, serving the action of the plot well. Other than a weird side-track on Freedom's trip east, and a few minor linguistic repetitions, I thought Miller did a great job keeping all the different arcs moving towards the conclusion with very few missteps.

STREET SENSE: This action-packed story of revenge and redemption makes for an impressive debut. A well-developed, flaws and all, kickass female protagonist with a sharp sense of humor is also a plus. If you like your writing lean and gritty but appreciate an occasional beautiful turn of phrase, this one might be for you. I'll definitely check out Ms. Miller's next offering.

A FAVORITE PASSAGE (OR TWO):

She has to use both arms to pull open the wooden doors to the pub and is met by a wall of stale cigarettes and dirty sinners.

Out the window, the skies resemble shifting leather on the back of some god rolling in excitement.

COVER NERD SAYS: I was initially attracted to the book by the cover, but the description of the plot was really what sold me. I would have picked the book up off a display table based on the cover, but I wouldn't have bought it regardless of synopsis. I like that the woman isn't entirely visible, allowing the reader to envision Freedom in their own mind as they so choose. I want to see this cover in person as the main font intrigues me; I love the minor font, which I think gives the whole look a bit of grit, though I'm not sure it fits entirely with the "polished" look of the photograph. But the main font may tie it all together. The cover does serve the story well and I like the dark feeling it evokes. Solid, shy of stellar.

3 comments:

Marisa @The Daily Dosage said...

Yes! Glad you enjoyed this one. I listed it on my June TBR list and really looking forward to picking it up.

Malcolm Avenue Review said...

Nice! Can't wait to hear what you think about it. Will be curious to see if you think differently about the "side-track" I pondered about.

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About Malcolm Avenue Review

I was lucky enough to be born and raised in a nifty, oak-shaded ranch house on Malcolm Avenue, a wide-laned residential street with little through traffic, located amid the foothills of Northern California. It was on that street and in that house I learned most of my adolescent life lessons, and many grown-up ones to boot. Malcolm Avenue was "home" for more than thirty years.

It was on Malcolm Avenue, through and with my family and the other families that made up our neighborhood of characters, that I first learned about and gained an appreciation for the things I continue to love the most to this day: music, animals, photography, sports, television/movies and, of course, books.

I owe a debt of gratitude to that life on Malcolm Avenue. It gave me a sense of community and friendship, support and adventure. For better and worse, life on that street likely had the biggest impact on the person I've become. So this blog, and the things I write here, are all, at their base level, a little bit of a love letter to Malcolm Avenue.

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