The all-true travels and adventures of Lidie Newton : a novel

by Jane Smiley

Paper Book, 1998





New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 1998.


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.

User reviews

LibraryThing member labwriter
My major problem with Jane Smiley's book was that she wrote it in the first-person point of view, from Lidie Newton's point of view. Smiley had a terrible time putting Lidie into a position of being able to report on everything that was happening in the story. The bungled first-person attempt was often simply ridiculous. A writer of her experience should have known that she was writing herself into a corner, and she should have fixed it. It's a shame, really, because this could have been a good read. One and one-half stars may be too high a rating because I couldn't even make myself finish the book.… (more)
LibraryThing member Boobalack
Boring. Dry. Too much unnecessary detail.
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.
LibraryThing member BobNolin
This was a disappointment. After 100 pages, I put it back on the shelf. The characters is "A Thousand Acres" lived and breathed. Lidie seems to be barely alive. She tells her life story in a bland, matter-of-fact style that is really quite boring (ironic, considering the bad press she received for saying the same of Huck Finn). At the back of my paperback edition, there is a "Conversation with Jane Smiley." The very first question speaks to why this novel is not a success.

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."
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LibraryThing member Jessiqa
This follows Lidie through her marriage and travel to Kansas Territory and then to Missouri in search of three murderers. It takes place in antebellum American at a time when it was dangerous to voice one's opinions on the "goose question," i.e. slavery. Aside from the free-stater vs. Missourian animosity which often erupted in violence, it was a seriously dangerous place to live simply because of the elements and disease.

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 imagineā€¦" 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.
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LibraryThing member BellaFoxx
These are the adventures of Lidie Newton. She's born, her mother dies, she gets sent to live with her half-sister, her father's daughter not her mother's daughter. Then her father dies, they have a funeral. Her half-sisters discuss what should be done with her. She is married off to an abolitionist and leaves for Kansas. They travel in a steamboat. They stake a claim, build a cabin of sorts, sleep on a hand sewed bed that Lidie sewed, even though she tell us at the beginning of the book that she can't sew. Lidie chases away vermin puts mud in the cracks in the walls. Worries about her nephew, worries about her husband. They move into town for the winter and live with other people. People die and get murdered, good guys and bad. They go back to their claim after winter, and then we get to the "cold-blooded murder" that "invades her own intimate circle". By now we are more than halfway through the book.

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.
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LibraryThing member FionaCat
excellent historical novel. Probably my favorite Smiley novel. Great characters, esp. the horse. :)
LibraryThing member hredwards
Good story. A little dry, but nice historical research.
LibraryThing member debnance
My first Smiley. Nothing grand, but a nice story.
LibraryThing member Gnorma
This book was especially interesting to me because I live in the region where it is set. This story depicts the conflicts before the civil war in the 'bleeding Kansas' era, and I found it fascinating. As soon as state was opened to settlers, abolitionists arrived there in large numbers in order to make it a free state but the pro slavery people had other ideas. The heroine, a free-stater, had to fear for her life. The places that I drive through came to life in this book. It gave me new insights into US history.… (more)
LibraryThing member JosephKing6602
Overall, a good read! - I'd recommend it to Jane Smiley fans who like her wide range of novels. Good narrative description of an historical context that I was not aware of. The book started a bit slow, but the reader gradually became interested in the Lidie and what she was in the midst of..#JaneSmiley
LibraryThing member debs4jc
I was fascinated by this account of a spirited young women's trek through the events of the Border War period in Kansas and Missouri. Lidie escapes the oppressive oversight of her family by marrying a man who is heading out to the Kansas territory. Lidie is excited about her new life, especially since she becomes genuinely fond of her new husband, but when they arrive in Kansas they find hardship after hardship awaiting them. Still, Lidie enjoys the peaceful times on their homestead. But when when the border ruffians attack the settlers, Lidie finds herself heartbroken. Soon she begins an altogether different journey.
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.
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LibraryThing member bjellis
I love books that give me a new perspective on history, compelling characters, and viewpoints that shift and show nuances throughout the story. Terrific. Appreciate the careful historical research that went into this (Kansas Territory just prior to the Civil War, with the race issue building) and that the story is told from the viewpoint of a character without a concrete point of view, who changes as she lives through events. A really good read -- I didn't want the book to end.… (more)
LibraryThing member ljhliesl
The shortcoming of the audio book: Lidie knows how to pronounce "pince-nez" but not "Derbyshire." Which I guess might fit the character and her times, though if you Americanize the pronunciation of the county wouldn't you Americanize that of the spectacles?

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.
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LibraryThing member marysargent
Excellent. About a woman who moves to Kansas with her new husband in the 1850's with all the pre-Civil War turmoil going on. I have a vague idea of this period from reading American history, but never had a sense of what it must have been like to live it. Smiley is really good at giving you a sense of that. Though for me, it's not at the level of Horse Heaven for how much I loved it, or Greenlanders for how it impresses me and haunts me, it's way up there.… (more)
LibraryThing member aliciamalia
I've read Jane Smiley's novels in the past, and have liked them for the most part. This book, unfortunately, falls far short of the mark--it's just plain bad.


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