In 1788 three men converge in the southern woods of what is now Alabama: Cat, an emotionally scarred white man; Bob, a garrulous black man fleeing slavery; and Istillicha, who seeks retribution after being edged out of his Creek town’s leadership.
In the few days they spend together, the makeshift trio commits a shocking murder that soon has the forces of the law bearing down upon them. Sent to pick up their trail, a probing French tracker named Le Clerc must decide which has a greater claim: swift justice or his own curiosity about how three such disparate, desperate men could act in unison.
Katy Simpson Smith skillfully brings into focus men whose lives are both catastrophic and full of hope—and illuminates the beating heart of a new America. A captivating exploration of how four men grapple with the importance of family, the stain of guilt, and the competing forces of power, love, race, and freedom.
Title: Free Men
Author: Katy Simpson Smith
Genre: Literature & Fiction | Historical Fiction | Cultural Heritage
Published: February 16, 2016
Format: Hardcover, 368 pages
FTC Disclaimer: I received an ARC from the publisher via TLC Book Tours in exchange for a fair and honest review. Opinions expressed are mine.
Although Katy Simpson Smith has written other works, Free Men is the first of her books I have had the opportunity to read. For that reason, I had no particular expectations other than it is a work of historical fiction set in the late 1700’s in southern America in the vicinity of what we now call Alabama.
Three men from three unique cultural backgrounds, each with a unique appearance and an equally unique story. A fourth man, a Frenchman named LeClerc, hunts these three unlikely companions for a crime committed after they came together along the trail.
Smith has chosen one of the harder methods of telling the story we find in Free Men. She allows the four men to share in monologue fashion his story. In other words, there are four back stories to this historical novel. By weaving their stories together in a microcosmic way, Smith achieves an elegant work of writing, one that touches not only on the freedoms and equality of men in the late 1700’s in America, but in the America of today, of 2016, and all the years in between.
At times, Free Men was terribly difficult to read, almost as messy and indistinguishable as a college student’s first creative nonfiction essay written while burning the midnight candle at 4:00 a.m. for an 8:00 a.m. class. And yet, in the end, I see this as a very important book in the world of 21st century literature for its uniquely different narration and the magical weaving of stories from extraordinarily different meanings into a tale of culture, ethnicity, day-to-day living and loving, and family.
If you decide to read Free Men, do not expect a joy ride or a lighthearted read. It is anything but those. If you enjoy reading about the days of bloodshed and crimes against man during the early days of our country’s infancy, then you will enjoy Free Men.
Katy Simpson Smith attended Mount Holyoke College and received a PhD in history from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and an MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars. She has been working as an Adjunct Professor at Tulane University and is the author of We Have Raised All of You: Motherhood in the South, 1750-1835. Her debut novel, The Story of Land and Sea, was published by Harper in August 2014. She lives in New Orleans.
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