A novel on 1855 Bloody Kansas, an armed clash between slaveholders and abolitionists, often referred to as a prologue to the Civil War. The heroine is Lidie Newton, the wife of a slain abolitionist. Dressed as a boy, she embarks on a mission of revenge against his killer. By the author of Moo.
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.
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."
I have a bachelor's in history and studied this period in American history, however I never went this in depth into the troubles in Kansas Territory. It's very clear, reading this book, that Jane Smiley did a great deal of research for Lidie's story, which is something that always gains my respect for an author. Even better, the narrative doesn't get lost in the history: Lidie's adventures are completely relatable.
My book club enjoyed the book quite a bit, mostly for the historical aspect. Personally, I liked the book, but found the ending depressing. When I mentioned this to my boyfriend, he said, "With that subject matter I can easily imagine…" He's right, of course. It's not a period of history filled with sunshine and unicorns. Nevertheless, it's a very good book and I recommend it to anyone who digs historical novels.
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.
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.
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.