Freeman, Judith 1946–

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Freeman, Judith 1946–


Born October 1, 1946, in Ogden, UT; daughter of LeRoy and Alice Freeman; married Anthony Hernandez (an artist and photographer), 1986; children: Todd.


Home—Los Angeles, CA; ID. Office—USC College, 3551 Trousdale Pkwy., Los Angeles, CA 90089. Agent—Joy Harris Literary Agency, 156 5th Ave., Ste. 617, New York, NY 10010. E-mail—[email protected]; [email protected]


Writer. University of Southern California, Los Angeles, lecturer in the Professional Writing Program, 2004—; Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD, visiting writer, 2007. Also has been a writer-in-residence at various workshops, including the Carmel Authors Festival and the Tomales Bay Writers Workshops.


PEN West.


Western Heritage Award for best western novel, 1991, for Set for Life; John Simon Guggenheim fellowship in fiction, 1997; Utah Center for the Book Award for Red Water, 2003; Rothermere American Institute fellow, 2005.



The Chinchilla Farm, Norton (New York, NY), 1989.

Set for Life, Norton (New York, NY), 1991.

A Desert of Pure Feeling, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1996.

Red Water, Pantheon (New York, NY), 2002.


Family Attractions (stories), Viking (New York, NY), 1988.

The Long Embrace: Raymond Chandler and the Woman He Loved (nonfiction), Pantheon Books (New York, NY), 2007.

Essays, reviews, and stories have appeared in magazines and journals, including the Chicago Tribune, Washington Post, and the New York Times; also contributing critic to Los Angeles Times Book Review. Collaborator with composer Chris Theofanidis, providing the text for a piece for soprano and string instruments titled "Song of Elos," performed at Carnegie Hall, the American Academy in Rome, and the Da Camera Society in Houston.


Judith Freeman's work has garnered critical praise for the author's technical skill and insight into the human condition. In an interview for Contemporary Literary Criticism, Freeman described what she hopes to achieve with her writing: "All writers must want to know more about themselves, but I hope my investigation extends beyond that. I look at the world partly like a photographer does. In other words, I'm recording things, and reporting on more than the state of my own life."

"Family Attractions marks the debut of a talented writer," wrote Michiko Kakutani, reviewer for the New York Times. The stories in this collection treat characters who attempt to reassemble their lives after a period of upheaval. For example, "The Death of a Mormon Elder" portrays a Mexican couple who must adapt to life in the United States, particularly in a Mormon community, and in "It Sure Is Cold Here at Night" a woman feels alienated from her boyfriend, a Vietnam War veteran. "The Botanic Gardens" is the story of a middle-aged woman vacationing in Australia after the death of her fiancé. "Freeman has a clear, unpretentious prose style and an ability to weave the small comic and tragic occurrences of domestic life into pleasingly organic narratives," asserted Kakutani. "Her voice—low-key, unsentimental and accented with the sounds of California and the West—is distinctively her own, and it allows her instinctive storytelling powers to shine through." "Freeman's writing is warmly intuitive, and many of her stories are braced with sardonic humor," commented a contributor to the Christian Science Monitor. Writing in the New York Times Book Review, Beverly Lyon Clark found fault with one aspect of the style of Family Attractions: "Although Ms. Freeman tends to overstate her points by telling what she has already shown—sometimes making her metaphors and endings strain too obviously for significance—she is superb at capturing dialogue, especially the dialogue of cross-purposes."

Freeman's debut novel, The Chinchilla Farm, follows the physical, mental, and spiritual voyages of Verna Fields. Unlike chinchillas, who remain with their mates for life, Fields, a thirty-four-year-old Mormon, is abandoned by her husband. Fields quits her job at a bowling alley, packs her belongings in a livestock trailer, and travels to Los Angeles, where she finds adventure. "The Chinchilla Farm is an on-the-road novel, a touching picaresque journey through the deserts of the West and the landscape of memory," noted Fern Kupler in the Washington Post Book World.

Set for Life is the story of two intertwined lives, that of an older man who is a retired Idaho carpenter and heart transplant survivor, and a sixteen-year-old pregnant girl who is a runaway trying to escape a family of neo-Nazis. The two meet accidentally and develop a father-daughter type of relationship. Jay Parini in the Los Angeles Times Book Review commented on Freeman's "remarkable clarity in portraying characters and her luminous often lyrical prose" in Set for Life. According to Parini, the novel is "starkly beautiful and focused with an almost laser-like intensity on her two protagonists." "Set for Life is about the heroism of ordinary people, and the strength of the characters in the novel lies in Ms. Freeman's ability to describe men and women with acumen and humor, and then go inside them," remarked novelist Katherine Paterson in the New York Times Book Review. "Freeman rarely lingers in a narrative cul-de-sac; indeed, the story drives ahead like an old-fashioned steam engine stuffed with coal," added Parini. Several commentators praised Freeman's handling of the setting in Set for Life. "It's the kind of writing, so vivid and concrete and sonorous, that makes Set for Life stand apart from so much that is now being written," asserted Parini. "Freeman is at her best painting the breath-taking natural landscape of lake and mountain," observed Paterson. "Writers with Judith Freeman's heart and mind are rare; their work should be cherished and carefully tended."

Freeman delves into the microcosm of relationships in her book A Desert of Pure Feeling. The book is set, in part, on an ocean liner "with a cast of characters worthy of Agatha Christie," according to Susannah Hunnewell of the New York Times. Hunnewell added, however, that the novel suffers from "too many plot lines" and "too many ambitious subjects." A contributor to Publishers Weekly remarked that A Desert of Pure Feeling is strong on portraying the inner workings of the characters, but it is weak "when Freeman throws in Nazis, Mormons and Guatemalan terrorism, elements that provide a false, often melodramatic sense of scope to what is, in the end, a very intimate novel."

Freeman grew up in a large Mormon family in Utah. Although she eventually left the church and moved to California, Freeman revisits her past religion in her historical novel Red Water. In 1847 a group of Mormons and Paiutes (a Native American tribe) murdered a group of more than one hundred settlers who were traveling through Utah on their way to California. The only man to be tried, convicted, and executed for the crime, known as the Mountain Meadows Massacre, was a Mormon leader named John Doyle Lee. In O, the Oprah Magazine, Louisa Kamps noted that the author tells the horrific story from the perspectives of three different women, and "in the process she creates a vivid, believable picture of the high religious fervor and red-dust-covered hardships of the Utah frontier." A Kirkus Reviews contributor described the book as "a sobering tale of women abused by a man and a faith that demanded total obedience. Still, lacking Lee's own testimony, the ghastly event is only partially explained." Several reviewers also commented on the author's writing style. David Kipen of the San Francisco Chronicle noted: "In keeping with her religious material, Freeman forsakes stylistic embellishments in her writing here, deferring almost all hints of humor, suspense or decoration." He added that "the result is a historical novel that's tough to warm up to, easier to admire than enjoy." John Freeman of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch described the three women who serve as narrators of the story. He felt the narrative structure worked, remarking: "Writing from each of their perspectives, Freeman gives her story the intimate feel of a diary, one that captures the nuances of a lost way of life."

In an interview with Ariel Swartley of Los Angeles magazine, Freeman commented: "I was fascinated in my research to find this wacky, wild religion and to see how it transformed itself. Nineteenth-century Mormonism was so kinky. They're drinking and they're really out there. Polygamy was a divine principle they were obliged to practice. It was a millennial sect: They believed the end was coming and they were preparing for it. And I think partly because of the Mountain Meadows—it brought such shame and disgrace—that when they entered the 20th century, Mormons wanted to become much more mainstream. And by God they have."

Freeman turns to nonfiction for her next book. The Long Embrace: Raymond Chandler and the Woman He Loved. Freeman spent four years researching her book about noted crime novelist Raymond Chandler and his wife, Cissy Pascal, who was at least eighteen years older than Chandler. Noted for his creation of Philip Marlowe, a tough-talking private detective, Chandler himself was, as pointed out by Curled up with a Good Book Web site contributor Barbara Bamberger Scott, a man "who was more edgy and irritable than tough, who both loved and feared beautiful women, who was mother-ridden and possibly a little gay, and who battled two great demons in his life: alcohol, and the complex sorrow of having married a woman much older than himself … and of loving her obsessively, and of having to watch her grow old and die, slowly."

Focusing on Chandler's unconventional relationship with his wife, Freeman examines how the author's mar- riage to Cissy influenced his life and his writing. "In previous books on Chandler, Cissy was always a shadowy background figure, whose presence went largely unexplained at the end of the story, and perhaps it took a woman and a novelist to bring her to the forefront," wrote Allen Barra for the New York Sun. Freeman notes several ways that the marriage impacted Chandler's writing. For example, she points out that the couple lived in thirty different apartments in Los Angeles during their marriage. "The author convincingly suggests that the Chandlers' frequent relocations added much to his textured portraits of the city in his fiction," noted a contributor to the Hollywood Reporter. Freeman also makes her case that it was Chandler's relationship with Pascal that played a crucial role in how he depicted his female characters, as well as how his iconic character Marlowe related to them.

"Chandler has always been known as a complex man," wrote Margaret Fletcher in Booklist, adding that The Long Embrace "can only deepen the reader's understanding of his character." Katherine A. Webb wrote that the author's "detailed prose is a pleasure to read."



Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 55, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1988, pp. 55-58.


Biography, winter, 2008, review of The Long Embrace: Raymond Chandler and the Woman He Loved, p. 169.

Booklist, September 15, 2007, Connie Fletcher, review of The Long Embrace, p. 15.

Christian Science Monitor, March 16, 1988, review of Family Attractions, p. 20.

Hollywood Reporter, September 17, 2007, review of The Long Embrace, p. 47.

Houston Chronicle, November 9, 2007, Allen Barra, "Clues to Raymond Chandler," interview with author.

Kirkus Reviews, November 15, 2001, review of Red Water, p. 1568.

Library Journal, December 1, 2007, Katharine A. Webb, review of The Long Embrace, p. 116.

Los Angeles, January, 2002, Ariel Swartley, review of Red Water, p. 86.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, October 27, 1991, Jay Parini, review of Set for Life, p. 3.

New York Sun, November 7, 2007, Allen Barra, "The Man Who Gave Us Marlow," review of The Long Embrace.

New York Times, February 17, 1988, Michiko Kakutani, review of Family Attractions, p. C21; January 19, 1992, review of Set for Life, p. 21; May 26, 1996, Susannah Hunnewell, review of A Desert of Pure Feeling, p. 15.

New York Times Book Review, March 6, 1988, Beverly Lyon Clark, review of Family Attractions, p. 20; January 19, 1992, Katherine Paterson, review of Set for Life, p. 21; December 30, 2007, Tom Shone, "The Big Sleepover," review of The Long Embrace, p. 16.

O, the Oprah Magazine, January, 2002, Louisa Kamps, review of Red Water, p. 102.

Publishers Weekly, August 25, 1989, Sybil Steinberg, review of The Chinchilla Farm, p. 51; April 8, 1996, review of A Desert of Pure Feeling, p. 57; August 6, 2007, review of The Long Embrace, p. 177.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 17, 2002, John Freeman, review of Red Water, p. F9.

San Francisco Chronicle, January 27, 2002, David Kipen, review of Red Water, p. 1.

Washington Post Book World, November 20, 1989, Fern Kupler, review of The Chinchilla Farm, p. B4.


Curled up with a Good Book, (July 27, 2008), Barbara Bamberger Scott, review of The Long Embrace.

Judith Freeman Home Page, (July 27, 2008).

University of Southern California, College of Letters, Arts and Science Web site, (July 27, 2008), faculty profile of author.

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