Leroy Kervin is an Iraq war veteran with a traumatic brain injury. He’s been living in a group home for years now, unable to feed or care for himself. He wakes up one night with uncharacteristic clarity and he’s able to see it all: his life now vs. the life he had long ago built with the love of his life. The sorrow is too much, and he can’t bear the thought of losing this newfound clarity again. He’d rather die than go back into that muddled state, and he winds up in the ICU after a failed suicide attempt.
Freddie McCall works the night shift at the group home and is the person who finds Leroy. He, too, has lost a lot. He once had a wife and family, but his marriage fell apart when one of his daughters required numerous medical interventions to correct a condition she was born with. With Freddie always working to pay for the medical bills and his wife staying home to care for their daughter, the stress took its toll. His wife and daughters now life far away with another man, while Freddie is on the verge of bankruptcy and still works two jobs in order to send money to his young daughters.
Pauline Hawkins is an ICU nurse at the local hospital. Everyone likes her, but her job is starting to wear her out and she dreams of switching jobs and becoming a school nurse. She is single and refuses to be tied down to any man, even though she’s already tied down to one in particular: her father, who is difficult and suffers from dementia. She takes care of Leroy, but it’s another patient who steals her heart. A troubled young runaway with abscesses on her legs obviously needs help, but she keeps running off with heroin addicts.
Each chapter in The Free rotates between different characters’ perspectives; their lives all converge after Leroy’s suicide attempt. Leroy’s chapters are filled with sci-fi influenced hallucinations; he’s only vaguely aware of what’s happening to him in the hospital, and his hallucinations become his reality. In them, he’s back together with his girlfriend, and they’re being hunted by a group called “The Free.” Freddie and Pauline interact only sometimes, when Freddie visits Leroy in the hospital. It is Leroy’s mother, Darla, whom Pauline becomes best acquainted with. She and Freddie are mostly living their own lives outside the hospital, trying to make the best out of difficult situations.
I actually did not like the hallucination/sci-fi chapters, but that’s just a personal thing I have against hallucinations and dream sequences in general. The book as a whole is a quick read, albeit a grim one based in realities that thousands of people face in this country. “The free” they are not.
The Free was released ion paperback n February 2014 by Harper Perennial, an imprint of HarperCollins. The book is on tour right now, so see what other bloggers are saying about it.