Reviewed by Shawn Badgley, Fri., Nov. 15, 2002
Free Birdby Greg Garrett
Kensington, 242 pp., $23
The biggest surprise of many in Baylor creative writing professor and Faulkner Prize-winner Greg Garrett's debut novel is the author's sense of humor. Not only because the story of Clay Forester is an essentially tragic one, and one sadly humming with a search for refuge -- tragedy, of course, is often conquered by comedy -- but because of how well it's wielded. Perfectly placed and with a 90% success rate, Garrett's campfire timing is refreshing in what eventually becomes a semi-autobiographical road-trip novel, albeit one with much promise and plenty of spirit. Stocked with a Southern by way of Southwestern cast of characters, Free Bird doesn't hide its convention and occasional sentimentality: It capitalizes on it. When Forester's family is killed, he moves home to his mother, only to soon learn that the father has died, as well. He leaves South Carolina for New Mexico, and finds that he has some serious confronting to do. Garrett is a musician, and his other craft comes in handy here, adding depth to an already deep, soulful tale. Reading Free Bird is like listening to "The Weight": moving, heart-rending, surprising, delightful, and, above all, memorable.