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'Fremont' is a strange modern fable crossed with a family saga. At some point in the later 20th century (not sure exactly when), Rachel Roanoke, who has been exiled from her home on The Island for being a female in a society where all the women have male children, meets Hal Fremont, a handsome builder, of part Caucasian-American and part African-American stock (one of his distant relatives was a slave). The pair marry a day after meeting, relocate to Hal's home town and family home (somewhere in a dry and dusty part of America), set up Hal's building business and begin a family, naming each child after a separate American state. Hal, who was one of many brothers, wants an army of sons - but all Rachel's children apart from her second are girls. This causes increasing tension. Hal begins an affair with the wife of one of his colleagues, and focusses all his spare attention on his son Texas, ignoring his daughters. Rachel eventually begins to look elsewhere for men to father her growing brood of girls, meaning that by the time she finally stops producing children, she's had 12 daughters by four different fathers (though one daughter dies as a toddler). 'Fremont' follows all their lives as the children grow up, Hal and Rachel grow apart and the worry about what will happen when Hal is no longer around - will he leave everything to Tex, like an old-fashioned father? - grows. And all the while, Rachel designs a magnificent map of America, adding a state for each named child, testimony to her life's work.

This is an odd book, and difficult to rate. On the one hand, the writing is often stunning, and very original. There are lovely descriptions of landscape, and some memorable vignettes of family life. Hal's trips birdwatching first with the uninterested Tex, then with the much more focussed and passionate Lou (Louisiana) are beautifully captured, as are Missy's thwarted ambitions and Naomi's (New Mexico's) obsession with the ghost of her dead sister Colorado, who drowned when Naomi took her out one hot evening. Very impressively, Reeder manages to give each of Rachel's 13 children distinct personalities, from ultra-responsible Flo (Florida) to wild wanderer Ari (Arizona), tomboy craftsman Bam (Alabama) and bookish, money-obsessed Ginny (Virginia) - and more besides. Rachel's memories of her distant, mythical Island and her relationship with her uncle and aunt Walt and Shirley are beautifully captured, as are Hal's conflicted feelings, torn between his wife, his mistress, his desire to invest all in his son and his growing realization his daughters are just as important. Reeder's strange mixture of fable (Rachel becomes a sort of fertility goddess) and American family-saga is unique and in many way works well.

However, the problem with fables in a contemporary, recognizable setting is that we often expect them to be pretty believable - and I wasn't always sure 'Fremont' was. For example, how did Hal and Rachel, in modern-day America, and on one salary, manage to feed and clothe 13 children? How did Rachel survive all those pregnancies without getting either seriously overweight or very ill? If Hal's building business was built on such shaky accounting and shoddy work practices, how come it survived that long, and was still limping along in Tex's hands? How did Utah manage to get to college, when Flo was told there was no money for such things? I know this novel is in part a fable, so doesn't 'have' to be entirely believable, but I felt some of it was just too fantastic to take seriously. In addition, I felt Reeder struggled at times to keep her multiple stories going - 15 main characters are a lot to develop, and in some cases she was more successful than others. Tex's sudden progression from sympathetic, troubled boy to super-villain wasn't entirely believable, as it happened so fast. Reeder seemed undecided about whether Hal and Rachel really were the great loves of each other's lives, or whether they were an ill-matched couple who should never have got together in the first place (one does feel that the moral of this story might be not to leap into marriage!). This meant that their behaviour was rather inconsistent - sometimes they appeared to be totally fed up with each other, at other times still deeply in love. Nor did Reeder really decide whether things changed substantially when Rachel acquired Jon as a lover to match Hal's Sandra. As for the girls - while some (Flo, Arizona, Lou and Missy) were well depicted, others were thinly portrayed - Utah, for example, who largely appeared to be Arizona's shadow, or Georgia the manicurist - or stereotyped, like the aggressive and irritatingly-named Bam. I sometimes wondered whether Reeder might have done better with slightly less girls. And inevitably, manipulating so many characters and their stories meant that the plot got a bit log-jammed at times. There were long sections in the early part of the book where not a lot happened other than child-birth and Rachel sleeping with various men and getting criticized for it. Naomi, one of the more interesting girls, simply vanished from the book altogether, while Lou suddenly became the town tart for no reason (it seemed very out of character). Late in the book, Reeder had to rush to try to tie up everyone's stories, and the feud between Tex and his sisters felt hurried and inconclusive (as with the Hal/Rachel marital troubles, Reeder seemed unclear quite how villainous Tex really was. Most disappointing, perhaps, was the ending - Reeder seems to have not been sure how to conclude the book, and so introduced the modern equivalent of the deus ex machina (a car crash) to finish off one character and bring various others together. It didn't feel convincing, and the book faded out rather than having a conclusive ending.

In the end, I felt that Reeder was both trying to cram too much into one book, and avoiding traditional structure to the extent that the novel sometimes ran into danger of becoming rambling. Nevertheless, at its best this was an elegant and beautifully-written work, and I'd definitely read another novel by this writer.
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on 27 April 2013
The flowing metaphors expressed something profound about life. They tapped into my unconscious and captured things I could not explain, only experience. I loved the female characters doing extravagant and unlikely things. I never knew where the story was heading. The map and the shifting house said so much about the things that happen in family life. You have a plan and you see a pattern then things change out your control. You have to accept and adapt. It had an exuberance that swept me along. This force was positive and life affirming despite some of the sad and difficult issues. I cried near the end. Always s bonus if a book moves me that much. Maybe the plot was too complicated and it was hard to keep track of the many daughters. A whirlpoolof a novel.
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on 17 March 2013
This book is pretty good and its got everything I was looking for in a book! At sometimes it did get a little boring but overall its good and I enjoyed reading it!
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on 19 December 2012
My sister recommended Fremont to me and I love it. It is some of the best writing I've read for a long time. The quality of the prose sucks you in.

I also love the slightly magical/mythological thread running through it, mainly expressed through imagery. For instance, Rachel, the mother/female protagonist, is always described in terms of water. She comes from an island and has a special affinity with water. She is beautiful and strong and determined - she's like a fertility goddess, with the drive to create daughters. Yet, at the same time, she's a mother of a large family with the same stresses and strains as anyone else. Her daughters may be able, sometimes, to call up storms, but magic is the wrong word - they have power, as Rachel has power. We're not talking spells and wand-waving here, but something that's a part of these characters in an elemental way. It's subtle, but it enriches the narrative and makes it read like a modern fairy tale. This isn't fantasy, though - it's literature. If you dislike fantasy novels, don't dismiss Fremont on that basis. I'm telling you, it's subtle, and you'd be missing a treat if you did.

The novel centres around family life, and touches on marriage, adultery, racism and the expectations parents have of their children. Hal has a very clear vision of how he wants his family to look and his son to grow up, to the point where he can't even see the daughters and son he does have. It is heart-breaking in places, as Rachel and the children try to make him see more clearly.

This is a truly great novel.
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on 4 June 2015
I don't understand the other reviews at all. I tried to read this but gave up. I honestly couldn't care less about the characters, and it was boring, and worse, contrived.
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on 10 May 2014
Cannot say I like the book. The first few pages gave me the excitement to expect a really good story but unfortunately it didn't take off. Sheer frustration for me.
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on 20 December 2012
I found out about this book from a friend at a book launch event. I thoroughly enjoyed the story and found it very different and a really interesting story.

Fremont takes you on a journey through family life with various personalities and emotions picked up on and covered through the book. Each character is portrayed in their own way. Initially I did think that with all the characters involved I would not be able to keep track, but Elizabeth Reeder has done a brilliant job of capturing you back into the relationships and theme throughout which keeps you wanting to read more.

I look forward to picking up Elizabeth Reeder's future novels!
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on 20 December 2012
I felt ensnared by Fremont; desperately savouring each page, trying to make it last, but also unable to put it down. The story of a family simply trying to be, to thrive and ultimately to survive each other, and themselves, was moving, engaging and inspiring. The lyricism and beauty of the writing gently draw you into a quest for identify, for individuality and the hard balancing act- the sacrifices and casualties- required to be a community, a family, perhaps even a nation.

It is majestic and yet deceptively simple. The rocks and rivers, the dirt, the desserts and the open skies of each state become the children of Rachel and Hal's dream (perhaps even the American dream), of their love, their pain and their hope. You are drawn through the family, the unfolding natures of each pregnancy, each child, and each hope, into the very heart of Americana, the Fremont map, and its territorial struggle for existence.
The strands of magical realism permeate the novel and deftly weave together the harsh realities of a racially complex family in a racially complex land, the struggle of global factors on small economies and what it means to dream, to know yourself and to grow.

Fremont is a rich and fertile story, where passion and haltered, joy, sorrow and forgiveness, fight border battles with each other and you are with them throughout, weeping, laughing and daring to dream.
A truly beautiful novel in all senses and I cannot recommend it enough.
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on 19 December 2012
Delivers a brilliantly written story that keeps you gripped throughout.

This book is all about family and the dysfunctional nature of big families. Coming from a large brood myself it really spoke to me. I found that I identified with some of the clashes and conflicts that occur in the story - although my lot aren't quite as dysfunctional as the Fremonts!
Also the ensemble of characters (13 kids!) was ambitious of the author, but I really felt that each child was well drawn and that their personalities jumped off the screen at me. My favourite was definitely Flo (named after the US state, Florida).

Very enjoyable and a highly recommended read.
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on 25 January 2013
What a great Christmas present! I love a book that pulls you in.
I really felt I was there following the intensity of Rachel and Hal's relationship, gathering
clues to their situations and explaining the subsequent fallout!

A well paced book with an interesting and strong female lead, give yourself a great present!
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