Clayton, Alec, “Return to Freedom”, CreateSpace, 2012.
After the Storm
In Alec Clayton’s sequel to “The Backside of Nowhere”, we find ourselves in the bayous of the South after a storm ravaged the town of Freedom, Mississippi. The town has been rebuilt to a degree and three families have come back and they move into anew condo. Now, I know what a hurricane can do having lived through Katrina but what these three families deal with makes a storm look like a rain shower. Sonny Staples (a hat off to Mittens?—knowing the author’s writing I don’t think so) and Malcolm Ashton who we met in the earlier novel and were once teen trouble are now older (middle-aged). Sonny is an evangelical preacher who likes the women and Malcolm works in a grocery and tries to take care of his alcoholic wife and raise his three children. Beulah Booker Taylor is the third and she is having a bit of trouble with defining her sexual orientation. Before we realize it, the domestic winds gather strength and a storm like no one has ever seen before is heading right for the condos.
What I really like about reading Clayton is the way he introduces us to his characters and they develop before our eyes. While he is no longer a southerner, he still has the southern knack for telling a good story with a broad cast of characters. You can almost feel the humidity as you read and as the temperature rises so does the carrying-on. I can certainly say that his depiction of the storm wrought by nature is perfect and a delight to read and as I read, so many memories returned to me. I must also admit that I was reminded of some of the stories in the Hebrew Bible, the Five Books of Moses, by reading about the dysfunctional people here. If you ever have wondered why some people get so caught up in daytime television dramas, you will soon understand as you read and face the life that the characters here face. There is a lot going on and while sometimes you do not see how everything ties together, you just need a little patience. However, the ending is open which leads me to believe that the story is not over yet and the writer is most probably working on a sequel.
Clayton gives us a look at life in the South that is not the way we usually read about things. The idea that the story basically revolves around the changes that occurred because of the storm is perfect and I remain surprised that so few books have been written about it. Since I have moved north, I am constantly surprised how little people really know about Katrina especially with all of the media coverage and the passage of blame from one to another. Even more interesting is that, in Boston, at least, people want to know and Clayton has provided me with something I can recommend—a work of fiction based on fact that shows us the storm by taking us through the lives of his characters. The title is also perfect in that as our characters return to freedom, they are aware of the high price they have to pay.