(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The report of a carjacking in the no-man’s land between a violence-ridden black housing project in the fictional city of Dempsy and the white, working-class town of Gannon sets the stage for high drama in Richard Price’s well-informed and subtly sympathetic look at life on America’s mean streets. Freedomland opens with an unidentified white woman, Brenda Martin, “marching” through an urban wasteland, oblivious to her surroundings and its dangers. Arriving at the local hospital, she reluctantly reveals her painful story. While driving home late at night from Dempsy to her apartment in Gannon, she became lost; a black man, pretending to offer directions, took her car and her four-year-old son, who was asleep in the back.

After this brief prologue, the novel is divided into four parts, each named for the pop songs Brenda favors. Within each of the four, the narrative alternates between two very different investigations. One focuses on Dempsy detective Lorenzo Council’s efforts to learn all he can about the carjacking so that he can apprehend the “actor” and recover the boy or his body. The other involves newspaper reporter Jesse Haus’s efforts to get the story. Their separate and differently motivated but parallel investigations unfold against the backdrop of “the real mess shaping up” in the projects. To catch one black carjacker and save one white child, the police seal off the entire housing project. As the state of siege, or lockdown, drags on, black anger grows, exploding shortly after Brenda admits that the carjacking was merely a story she invented to conceal her own part in Cody’s accidental death. For all its gritty, street-smart realism, Freedomland unfolds...

(The entire section is 701 words.)