Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Freeman's Oath - A Review

In 2009, my friend Joseph Newman published his novel "The Freeman's Oath" through Lulu and I happily purchased it in 2010.

Summary from Lulu:
Meet Jonathan Gray, a rare book dealer who can’t seem to sell any books. The death of his parents has him casting about, trying to uphold the bookselling legacy he inherited from his father as best he can. Meanwhile, his friends aren’t doing much better at being adults. The romantic side of things isn’t exactly rockstar quality, either. Jon’s in trouble. He realizes he needs to grow up, fast, or have his worst fear—alienating all the people close to him—swallow him like a mushroom cloud. Luckily, Jon is presented with a way out. When an old customer shows up with a centuries-old copy of a long-lost and exceedingly puritanical document, the Oath of a Free-man, the hope of a huge sale gives Jon one chance to save the business and redeem himself. 

I was acquainted with an earlier draft** and eager to discover how my friend completed his novel. Joe had elevated a minor arc into the primary concern: the evolution of the main character. At the same time, he took the original focus, the Oath, and turned it into a rite of passage for Jonathan Gray. Written in this manner, the novel is a far more powerful piece.

Joe depicts his protagonist with shameless strokes, boldly revealing his insecurities and self-absorption. This is a real guy. Jonathan is in his late twenties but still living a college lifestyle, procrastinating dealing with reality. In fact, Jon isn't easy to like at first. But not only does he grow on you, he grows up over the course of the novel. This is a rare treat. It is successful because of the author's humor, humility, and honesty, and is a refreshing depiction of a modern hero. In particular, I enjoyed that the author ripped away safety nets forcing his character to fend for himself.
The story also carries a great deal of historical information which Joe manages to deliver without a lecture. His depth of knowledge is sprinkled throughout the novel, revealing the relevant information as needed. It's that extra seasoning that makes this novel special.

The female characters may appear to be two-dimensional, even idealized. Mercedes is the femme fatale and Jessie, the girl next door. But I believe Joe successfully rounds out both women. In fact, I enjoyed how the mystery of the Oath is weaved into Jon's evolving relationship with Jessie. Each have a past, a present, and a future.

The book is balanced, clean, and tightly paced. Joe doesn't require a reader to stop and decipher his meaning. He is descriptive, evocative in his writing and generous with humor. My only complaint is in regards to the numerous inside jokes about Boston. They may leave many readers in the dark. My other concern is that Joe, in an effort not to hit the reader over the head with authorial largesse, pulls back so far he occasionally abandons the reader as to what she should be feeling. And yet, I'd rather be left on my own instead of guided word by word to every conclusion. There's nothing like being yanked from that wonderful sensation of total absorption to realize the author is showing off or has stopped to deliver a telegram. Stop. Next scene important. Stop. Ain't I clever? Stop. Not trusting your reader will often make them stop.

It's a romantic story with a man as the protagonist. It's a drama about finding one's self. It's a mystery filled with history. The Freeman's Oath is available through Lulu, Amazon, iBookstore, and (Nook). And pay attention folks, you can get this delightful book for .99 as an ebook. It's a steal!

If you want to get more acquainted with the writer, check out Joe's wonderful blog at

Happy reading!

**I had the great pleasure of meeting Joe in a class we took during our Master's program. We started in a novel class and from there maintained a writing group with a couple of other terrific writers. We met weekly and though we imbibed quite a bit of Two Buck Chuck (on campus, no less), we managed to read portions of each others' manuscripts. There were four of us, so it was a feat to circulate, discuss, and give good notes while taking classes and working. I'm very proud of what we accomplished and miss that fantastic group every day.