Red Water

Book Cover - Red Water

Red Water was named the 2002 best book of the Southwest by theTucson Book Review.

Red Water was also chosen as one of the 100 Best Books of that year by theLos Angeles Times Book Review. It won the Utah Book Award, and was short listed for the Mountain and Plains Bookseller Award, and was widely reviewed and praised.

On September 11, 1857, a group of 120 emigrants en route to California was attacked and slaughtered by Mormon settlers and their Indian allies. The lives of seventeen children under the age of seven were spared. Twenty years later, John D. Lee, a Mormon polygamist and a participant in the massacre, was executed by a firing squad at the same spot and thus entered history as the scapegoat for all those responsible for what came to be known as the Mountain Meadows Massacre.

Red Water is the story of the life of John D. Lee as told by three of his nineteen wives: Emma, a young English convert to the faith whom he met shortly after the event; Ann, thirteen years old and the last wife he married; and Rachel, the sister of one of his first wives, who became perhaps his most devoted wife. As each of these women speaks, a portrait of a complex and ambitious, generous and tortured man emerges. Each of Lee’s wives possessed an independent spirit and yet each was mesmerized by him—a member of Brigham Young’s inner circle, a resourceful frontiersman, a proselytizer, a man of appetite and charisma. Red Water is a novel that gives us an immediate, dramatic, and insightful depiction of early Mormon belief; the sense of persecution felt by the Mormons; the steadfast adherence of sisters in marriage; and the devastation felt by Lee’s family at his death. Above all, Red Water offers a deeply moving, emotionally resonant portrait of how Ann, Rachel, and Emma each understood the intersecting forces of faith and love, one which also brings to life the hauntingly beautiful red rock country of Southern Utah.

James Welch said that Red Water “will take you into a territory and culture that will haunt you long after the last page is turned.”

Pam Houston called Red Water ”brave, willful, beautiful, entirely unique, unceasingly complicated, and remarkably fair.”

Diane Johnson said, “I found Red Water strong and fascinating. Judith Freeman has found a brilliant way of telling this strange story.”

alled the book “a poignant, searching memoir of self-discovery.”  

Her first book, a collection of short stories, Family Attractions (1988), was praised in the New York Times for its originality.  Her novels include, The Chinchilla Farm (1989), Set For Life (1991), A Desert of Pure Feeling (1996), and Red Water, named one of the 100 best books of 2002 by the Los Angeles Times.   She is also the author of the non-fiction work The Long Embrace:  Raymond Chandler and the Woman He Loved, hailed by Jonathan Lethem as an “elegant, stirring book.”

She received a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship in 1997, and also won the Western Heritage Award for her novel, Set For Life in 1992.  She has taught writing at the University of Southern California and other writing workshops around the country.   Her essays and articles have appeared in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune and other periodicals. In 2005, she received a Visiting Fellowship from the Rothermere American Institute at Oxford where she did research in the Raymond Chandler archive at the Bodleian Library.  She also was a visiting artist at Johns Hopkins University where she completed the work on The Long Embrace.   In 2011 she was awarded the Erle Stanley Gardner Fellowship to do further research into the Los Angeles of Raymond Chandler, at the Harry Ransom Center in Austin, Texas.

She has collaborated with other artists and writers on projects.  During a year spent in Rome in 1999, she collaborated with the prize-winning composer Chris Theofanidis, providing the text for Song of Elos, a piece for soprano and string instruments that was performed at Carnegie Hall, The American Academy of Rome, and the Da Camera Society in Houston.  She also traveled to India in 1992 with her friend, the photographer Tina Barney, where they spent seven weeks photographing and writing about an extended family in Rajasthan.  She lives in Los Angeles and rural Idaho with her husband, artist photographer Anthony Hernandez.