Midwest Book Review July 2014

Land Of The Free is a different kind of novel, and will pique the imaginations of any who want a candid shot of American culture as seen through the eyes of a nameless (yes, I said nameless) protagonist who leads a nomadic lifestyle.

Now, plenty of novels have presented the story of a protagonist who embarks on a journey across America: one of the most notable being Jack Kerouac's On the Road. What differentiates Land of the Free from many of its competitors is that its story is based on author Woodrow Landfair's real-life experiences: thus, the scenarios and encounters assume a realistic tone that many such stories just can't match.

Land Of The Free is as much autobiography as it is a novel: it's travel adventure at its best, it's introspection at its deepest level, and it's as much the story of American culture and evolution as it is about the protagonist/author's explorations.

But wait, there's more: the protagonist harbors the ability to fib his way into just about any profession. Thus, his entry into the world of a traveling road show leads to his rapid advancement up the rungs of a ladder of lies and into the spotlight of national television - and it's here that the story really shines.

Having built such an elaborate web of lies and a persona that doesn't really exist, our hero finds himself caught in a spider's web of complexity, and when he attempts to flee his fabricated life it's not to become a hero, but a wanted criminal.

Add a coast-to-coast chase, encounters with a myriad number of characters who each foster their own illusions and lies, and an evolving search for the truth about America and self and you have a read which is thoroughly engrossing in spite (or, perhaps because) of featuring a nameless protagonist.

Writing is tight, dramatic, and involving and deftly narrates the dilemma of a character caught in his own trap: "For publicity, for money, for fame, for the inflation of my ego, for the advancement of my dreams and my dreams for others, I turned my life into the ridiculous stack of pages in my hands. None of this ever really bothered me before, but as I stare into the mirror, I can't recognize my face. I can't remember my past."

There's equal emphasis on the stories and lies (some big, some little) of others he encounters, with a measure of humor thrown in for good measure: "In the back room, Manuel filled the Grey Goose bottles with discount vodka. Roberto set mousetraps in the pantry. The hostess did her little dance with the customers: "We bake all of our own bread, and our dessert chef makes a wonderful tiramisu from scratch." She referred to the supply closet by a much grander name: "Let me call back and see if we have that year in the wine cellar."

From little discrepancies come great lies - and from great lies greater evils emerge in the world of America and the protagonist. Under such circumstances the finer lines between hero and villain, between truth and reality, and between illusion and fact create a confusing vortex that swirls around a small-time adventurer who inadvertently becomes a personality to be reckoned with.

The protagonist's journeys and dreams are vivid touchstones reflecting the uncertainties of the nation and individuals alike: perhaps this is why the writing is so compelling, holding the ability to spark reader self-reflection in turn: "In my mind I see an aerial image of the planet, with a zoom lens gradually gaining focus on the Northern Hemisphere and getting ever closer. I see the United States of America. I see the northeast. I see Maine. I see the coast. I see myself. I see myself."

If you're expecting a standard story of cross-country travel, think again. Land of the Free is so much more; and its ability to involve readers in a quest for personal AND national understanding makes it a top recommendation for any who want an engrossing, unique perspective.