Judith Ann Freeman launched her career with the short-story collection Family Attractions and then settled into writing novels. She is a recipient of the John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship and the Western Heritage Award for Best Novel for Set for Life. The daughter of devout Mormons Alice Paul Freeman and LeRoy Freeman, Judith was raised in a family of eight children in Ogden, Utah. She married at seventeen, had a son by eighteen, and was divorced at twenty-one. After raising her son, Todd, she devoted herself to writing. In 1986 Freeman married photographer Anthony Hernandez. They would live in California and travel the western United States, the deserts, mountains, and coasts providing breathtaking settings for her fiction.
Freeman is a self-taught writer, having learned to write by reading novels she liked. She does not write outlines but lets the story go where it wants. Her fiction juxtaposes the inner search for oneself, for one’s place and purpose in the universe, with the inspiration of dynamic, open western landscapes. Her characters are middle class but often out of the mainstream, down-to-earth types and underdogs who, by the end of the story, have found themselves.
Freeman is given to detail, closely recording daily life but in the process quietly getting under the common occurrences to the struggles. Her characters come across the page as lonely but honest souls. Through a calm, “soft-sell” storytelling tone and crisp, even mundane (but believable) dialogue, Freeman’s characters befriend someone as needy as themselves. In her first novel, The Chinchilla Farm, Verna Fields flees Utah, having been abandoned by her abusive Mormon husband. En route to Los Angeles, she picks up a hitchhiker, Duluth Wing, and together they travel through the West to Mexico. Vera finds strength in herself, and they develop a fulfilling relationship.
A subtheme running through Freeman’s writings is the meaning and definition of family. In Set for Life, a sixteen-year-old pregnant runaway comes to live with Phil, a survivor of a heart transplant. They help each other and form a father-daughter relationship, which occasionally borders on the oedipal. Lucy, in A Desert of Pure Feeling, like Sethe in Toni Morrison’s Beloved (1987), must deal with a painful past. Initially planning a healing trip alone, she lands in a hotel on...
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