See the difference, read #1 bestselling author Jane Smiley in Large Print * About Large Print All Random House Large Print editions are published in a 16-point typeface Six years after her Pulitzer Prize-winning best-seller,A Thousand Acres,and three years after her witty, acclaimed, and best-selling novel of academe,Moo,Jane Smiley once again demonstrates her extraordinary range and brilliance. Her new novel, set in the 1850s, speaks to us in a splendidly quirky voice--the strong, wry, no-nonsense voice of Lidie Harkness of Quincy, Illinois, a young woman of courage, good sense, and good heart. It carries us into an America so violently torn apart by the question of slavery that it makes our current political battlegrounds seem a peaceable kingdom. Lidie is hard to scare. She is almost shockingly alive--a tall, plain girl who rides and shoots and speaks her mind, and whose straightforward ways paradoxically amount to a kind of glamour. We see her at twenty, making a good marriage--to Thomas Newton, a steady, sweet-tempered Yankee who passes through her hometown on a dangerous mission. He belongs to a group of rashly brave New England abolitionists who dedicate themselves to settling the Kansas Territory with like-minded folk to ensure its entering the Union as a Free State. Lidie packs up and goes with him. And the novel races alongside them into the Territory, into the maelstrom of "Bloody Kansas," where slaveholding Missourians constantly and viciously clash with Free Staters, where wandering youths kill you as soon as look at you--where Lidie becomes even more fervently abolitionist than her husband as the young couple again and again barely escape entrapment in webs of atrocity on both sides of the great question. And when, suddenly, cold-blooded murder invades her own intimate circle, Lidie doesn't falter. She cuts off her hair, disguises herself as a boy, and rides into Missouri in search of the killers--a woman in a fiercely male world, an abolitionist spy in slave territory. On the run, her life threatened, her wits sharpened, she takes on yet another identity--and, in the very midst of her masquerade, discovers herself. Lidie grows increasingly important to us as we follow her travels and adventures on the feverish eve of the War Between the States. With its crackling portrayal of a totally individual and wonderfully articulate woman, its storytelling drive, and its powerful recapturing of an almost forgotten part of the American story, this is Jane Smiley at her enthralling and enriching best. From the Trade Paperback edition.
Q: Explain the genesis of 'The All-True Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton.'
A: I was in Washington, D.C. during a book tour when I heard that the federal building in Oklahoma had been bombed. I then called a friend of mine and told him that I wanted to write about the intersection of ideology and violence in American life. Without hesitation, he said, "Kansas, 1850."
Later, she makes the following statement: "I've always wanted whatever I concocted to go down easily, and whatever was in it that was informational or thematic or enlightening to slide down practically unnoticed by the reader."
So her motivations are to teach, to enlighten, to improve our minds, and to do so she wraps it up in a nice story to help it "go down easily." Unfortunately, the story here is not engaging, the characters lie dead on the page, we can not empathize with or see the world through Lidie's eyes, due to the emotionless writing. So the necessary sugar-coating is lacking, and what we're left with is a diatribe. And a boring one at that. I see no need, at this point, to try to convince people that slavery is bad. Pretty darn self-evident, I would think.
In "A Thousand Acres," Smiley's anger about child abuse and male stupidity comes across loud and clear, but we are swept along because we care about the characters, and what happens to them. By Chapter 7 of Lidie Newton's story, I had lost interest.
I close with this "Notice" from the opening pages of Huck Finn, by Mark Twain:
"PERSONS attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot."
Rather like reading a history book, rather than historical fiction. Good reference material.
It was a chore to finish this book.
The characters seemed stiff, but I loved Jeremiah, the horse.
It has taken me far to long to get to this point. The narrative crawls, we know every detail of her life, even when the murder happens, she calmly relates it, tells about the fear and panic she feels, but with no feeling. There is too much description and too much detail. I didn't finish this book so I don't know how it ends, if Lidie found the killers and got her revenge, the book jacket promises us we get to know Lidie, by this point I didn't want to, I just knew that I didn't like this book.
This was a fine entertainment. Some bits dragged more than is ideal, but in audio, that doesn't bother me as much as in print.
I enjoy Jane Smiley almost always. Age of Grief didn't work for me, but its format -- three novellas -- worked against it as much as the novellas' content (misery).
Is it perverse of me that Greenlanders and Moo rank ahead of A Thousand Acres? I'm not sure whether this would be third or fourth, but "fourth" isn't so bad considering she's one of my favorite authors. I've read six of her books (and of them, Age of Grief ranks about eleventh) and I next look forward to Horse Heaven, which she said in 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel was her own favorite to write.
A reviewer on Amazon said this was taught in U.S. history classes. That makes a lot of sense, because it's a great perspective on what is, for me, an obscure element in the lead-up to the Civil War. Missouri Compromise, okay, but after that the fate of Kansas and Missouri is a blank.
It took a while for me to get into this, but after the first 50 pages I got sucked it it was really fascinating. Being in the same geographic location added to my enjoyment of the story, the vivid scenes of life in Lawrence during the 1800's seemed so real. The early settlers to our state really went through a lot! Lidie is certainly a compelling character, I could not believe how much she endured and how she just kept going. It made for an enjoyable discussion at our book group. I would suggest this book to anyone who enjoys well though out historical fiction and/or fiction that explores how ideals affect the life of the individual.