Farnham’s Freehold by Robert A. Heinlein
Farnham’s Freehold leaves mixed impressions in my head. I like Heinlein’s work. Usually. But this one isn’t one of the better ones. Still, it makes a person think, especially considering when he wrote it, in the mid 1960’s. This book is a combination of the nuclear war threat that would end the world and the racial problems in the United States that were finally be recognized.
Hugh Farnham and his wife are home for the evening. Their son Duke, a lawyer, is over for dinner. Their college daughter, Karen, brought over a friend, Barbara. Jospeh, the household help, is there to prepare and serve dinner. Later Jospeh joins the group when they start playing Bridge. But Hugh is glued to his radio as well as the playing cards. The world is on the brink of war. He knows their home is only a few miles from a primary site. If the atomic bombs should start flying, he wants to get his family into the underground shelter he has built.
The notice of bomb warning comes. Hugh shepherds everyone down into the shelter. The bombs hit. The shelter is badly shaken, but survives through three major explosions. When they finally emerge the next morning, the world is not what they anticipate. Instead of the expected devestation, the Farnham group is in the middle of a green, sunny forest. Their neighbors are bears and mountain lions, not other shell shocked people. They are now faced with a simple, pre-technology survival problem. But this is the type of problem that also shows up the problems within the family. Can Hugh keep his family alive and together? When they finally find civilization, how will they handle the new world they are in?
The concept is interesting. The language is dated at times. The older I get, the more I realize how stilted Heinlein’s romantic scenes are. It is especially true in this novel. Yet this novel shows how ordinary people work through extraordinary situations. Heinlein also uses the book as an opportunity to preach against racism in a way that hits home. Overall, I stayed with the book because it’s a Heinlein, darn it! By the end, I was glad I had.