The All-True Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton

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9780006551232: The All-True Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton

An American classic from the author of the Pulitzer-winning A Thousand Acres.

• The kind of book today’s novel readers dream of – that elusive, seemingly impossible thing: a totally fresh, literary, accessible, involving modern twentieth-century nineteenth-century epic
• There is no American author – male or female – that combines commercial and critical success to the degree that Jane Smiley does. If she were a man, that fact would be rather better known (boasted about?) than it currently is.
• In Lidie Newton, Jane has created an extraordinary female protagonist, with whom her reader sympathizes utterly and roots for vigorously – she’s a genuinely Great American Character, like Huck Finn or Isobel Archer or Rabbit Angstrom
• Smiley takes us to the faultline in the middle of America in the middle of the last century, and shows us how so much of its successes and failures since then were born in those tense, terrifying times
• South vs North; Confederacy vs Union; pro-slavers vs abolitionists; puritans vs hedonists; and women vs men – all the great American conflicts are here; all the great fissures that erupted into the worst war the world had then ever seen, the American Civil War

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Review:

In Illinois, circa 1855, a plain, penniless, parentless young woman should be anything but socially useless, ill tempered, and not that well behaved. However Jane Smiley's game heroine Lidie Newton, prides herself on being all of these. Lidie can ride a horse--and not side-saddle, either--walk forever, write, and argue. All of these abilities will stand her in good stead when she and her new husband, Thomas Newton, make their way to K.T. (Kansas Territory) with a case of Sharps rifles and a desire to keep Kansas from slavery. Alas, "In K.T., it was often the case that every version of every story was equally true and equally false."

The All-True Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton is a Little House on the Prairie for grown-ups. Lidie's accounts of building a homestead, from buying a new stove to coming upon the finest horse in the territory (and among the finest in literature), combine character, charm, and social history. (Smiley's chapter titles alone--which include "I Eavesdrop, and Hear Ill of Myself" and "Papa Is Cordial"--are worth the price of admission. "Papa," by the way, is an aged anti- abolitionist who wants to marry her.) But there is also menace. Early on, for example, Lidie pastes her home with "leaves of The Liberator and some other papers that Thomas had brought with him from the United States. This, he said, would serve the threefold purpose of advertising our views to our visitors, reminding ourselves of the arguments to be made in the cause, and keeping out the wind. Every leaf, according to the new laws of Kansas Territory, was treasonable."

Though Lidie once conjured up paradisal images of a "(weathertight and cozy) cabin," surrounded by fruit-laden trees, pure streams and verdant grass through which she'd dally, "perhaps in pursuit of a pretty little cow," their tiny home is freezing and their situation fraught with fear. The Newtons' first months are filled with the exhilaration of new marriage and the difficulties of life in a hostile environment. Winter kills off several of their fellow radicals and "the southerners" seem bent on violently removing the rest. Lidie unfortunately makes the mistake of finding the season more formidable: "The prolonged frigid weather made even the prospect of being hanged, shot, dismembered, killed or otherwise cleared out rather an abstract one. The possibility of being frozen to death was distinctly more likely."

The All-True Travels is a superb and well-informed reinvention. (In her acknowledgements, Smiley thanks David Dary, the fine historian of the American West.) Who would have thought that a shipboard meal would be more like a pitched battle, or that--as Lidie soon discovers--sentiment would turn out to be "a cruel joke in K.T."? At a certain point in the novel, however, the historical and social fabric becomes almost overwhelmingly dense. However, after her hero and heroine are ambushed by southerners, Smiley pares down the details and explores Lidie's character and conscience (as she is forced into a series of memorable guises), and her "all-true travels" take on emotional and ethical complexity.

Review:

‘Jane Smiley is the supremely accomplished chronicler of our life and times’
Laura Tennant, Harpers & Queen

‘Smiley is fast becoming the Balzac of the American Midwest’
Alison Lurie, NY Times

‘Is there anything Jane Smiley cannot do?’
Pico Iyer, Time

‘Jane Smiley thinks big without ever forgetting how to write exquisitely’
Observer

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Jane Smiley
Published by Flamingo (1998)
ISBN 10: 0006551238 ISBN 13: 9780006551232
New Paperback Quantity Available: 1
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Irish Booksellers
(Rumford, ME, U.S.A.)
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Book Description Flamingo, 1998. Paperback. Book Condition: New. book. Bookseller Inventory # 6551238

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