A run-down suburb of Nashville, Tennessee is home to the Freedman family – a tight-knit clan of hard-drinking men who grind their women to dust beneath their boots. From the first moment she meets him, Memphis Monroe, a soft-spoken choir-girl, is overwhelmed by Johnny Freedman’s attention and reputation. Her mother, Doris, who partied with Johnny’s old man back in the day, wants to secure a future for her daughter outside of the trailer park and pushes Memphis to marry him. When the novel opens in the late 70s, Memphis has been married to Johnny for ten long years, and is too worn down by his drinking and violence to hope for a brighter future for her and her son, Michael. Until, that is, the day Johnny goes too far and Memphis is faced with a choice: live as a lion for one day or a sheep for a lifetime.
With her son beside her in her husband’s prized Mustang Shelby, Memphis escapes and embarks on an epic journey from Nashville to Los Angeles in search of shelter and safety. What she finds instead is the voice she’s quelled for so long, a new love, and answers to questions that have plagued her her whole life. When Johnny and Doris track her to Los Angeles, Memphis finds herself caught in a web of lies spun long before she ever met her abusive husband – leading to a final, harrowing encounter from which there can be no turning back.
Memphis explores the generational impact of alcoholism and violence on families, and the early days of abortion rights in America.