Freedom's Just Another Word

by Dakota Hamilton,
256 pages,
ISBN: 0002245728

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First Novels - More than Another Word
by Eva Tihanyi

Every life has its pivotal moments. In the case of Maggie Hoffer in Freedom's Just Another Word (HarperCollins, 344 pages, $26 cloth), by Dakota Hamilton, it is the moment when Mongrel, Maggie's biker husband and father of her two children, walks into the kitchen, announces that he's having a bad life, and shoots himself. Certainly an opening scene calculated to get your attention-which, of course, it does. And as Maggie replays the scene over and over, examining each detail, it becomes the point around which all the other points of her life congregate.

For the Harley-loving, drug-dealing Mongrel, "life was simple-meat and potatoes, beer and baseball, and men screwing women from on top, mostly." When a severe leg injury prevents him from riding the way he liked to, he loses more than his preferred means of transportation: he loses his one true passion. His answer? Suicide.

Unfortunately for Maggie, she is arrested for Mongrel's murder and, although she pleads innocent, the circumstantial evidence is against her. When the novel begins, she is serving the first of ten years at a maximum security prison, where she and a group of like-minded inmates are planning their escape. The group-Big Dee, a six-foot-tall black woman; Chan, a young Chinese girl; Sam and Darlene, a pair of lesbian lovers; Stella, a Native Indian who possesses both practical and spiritual wisdom; and the quirky, often funny Maggie-plot their break-out during meetings of what is ostensibly a twelve-step recovery program approved by prison officials.

The overall tone is comic, the chapters being laced with Maggie's tarot card insights and recipes for such culinary originals as Mongrel's Barbie-Q Sauce That Would Make a Rubber Tire Taste Great and The Best Goddam Pumpkin Pie in the Known Universe. But there is a serious undercurrent as well: the issue of freedom. What it means, what it costs, what it's worth. It is an issue that each of the women must confront and resolve for herself. The most intriguing aspect of the story is how each one does it.


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