“Escape” by Joanna Luloff is a tense character study of two men forced into friendship by the proximity incarceration demands, sharing all they have, distrustful but tethered by love, hope, fear, necessity. We are given access to their journey, a lush and physical and terrible world by itself—but we are also given access to their dreams, which build and move and crash in front of us—and it is how these realities speak to one another that sets this story apart. Luloff’s careful attention to tension and momentum as these men travel is reminiscent of Rebecca Makkai and Adam Johnson at their best, and the closeness we feel to these violent men morphs and changes as we learn their histories and listen to their dreams, their bloodied feet moving them through dense forests, their personal stories illuminating these individual wildernesses of paranoia and regret. Luloff asks us to follow bad men as they struggle with the love they left behind, the violence that they both run from and toward, and what she gifts to us as readers is a story that will stay with the reader long after they have left it behind. Our own dreams punctuated now by the claustrophobic images Luloff creates: the press of shoulder and thigh to the inside of a water pipe, tinned sardines on saltine crackers, iodine pills dissolving and yellow in creek-water, and the shotgun that changes everything. This story is about family and survival, about what it takes to try to live free even as her reader is forced to question who it is that might earn it.
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