I read Freeman Walker (2008) by David Allan Cates on the tails of completing The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, both of which feature young men in slavery in extraordinary situations, but their tales diverge rapidly from that similarity. The life story narrated by Jimmy Gates, later to rename himself Freeman Walker, tells of a boy born to a slave mother and her master. At 7, Jimmy is freed and sent to school in England. When his father dies, Jimmy finds himself in a workhouse in London. Returning to America in the midst of the Civil War, our protagonist joins a Union brigade, is captured and returned to slavery and is only able to regain freedom by participating in an atrocity.
The rest of the novel is something of a meditation on this sullied freedom as Freeman Walker heads west to the lawless gold rush country. There he finds himself increasingly bizarre situations supporting Irish revolutionary come Civil War colonel come Territorial Governor Cornelius O’Keefe in his efforts to bring civilization and justice to the west. Late in the book, a certain element of magical realism descends upon the book with Walker himself deciding he’s a faerie.
It’s a compelling, but odd book, which kind of misses the mark for me. It just seems like it should be better than it is.
Freeman Walker by David Allan Cates. Unbridled Books (2008), Hardcover, 304 pages