All too often, this abridged version of the cassette edition of The All-True Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton leaves the listener breathless. Jane Smiley's 450-page action-packed story of pioneers in the 1850s has been reduced, here, to four compact tapes, each one galloping across the prairie landscape of abolitionist politics and homesteading hardships with the abandon of the Pony Express. Read by actress Mare Winningham (Georgia, St. Elmo's Fire), the tale belongs entirely to its resilient heroine, Lidie Newton, whose whirlwind adventures begin with her marriage to abolitionist Thomas Newton and their departure for the Kansas Territory. There, the uneasy co-existence between emigrant abolitionists and pro-slavery Missourians is forever erupting, spewing forth disreputable characters and spirited subplots that tax even Lidie's tenacious optimism. Winningham has fun adding vocal nuance to this colorful cast, though Lidie emerges a little more refined on tape than she appears in print. In the interest of economy, the tapes also eliminate context-such as the overheated political backdrop for so many events or the private voices of the Newton marriage. Here is Lidie a few months into her marriage, in a passage omitted from this cassette: "Thus, I sat across from my husband. . .wondering whether he was the closed, dull, stiffly upright, and self-righteous person part of me seemed to see, or the pained, lonely, and worried person another part of me seemed to see." By losing these rare glimpses at an introspective Lidie, the tapes sacrifice the deeper dimensions of the book. Stripped of the more writerly Smiley, they leave, instead, a fast-paced, entertaining story, narrowly saved from melodrama by Lidie's clear-eyed view of matters and Smiley's fluid handling of the narrative. If you're not a purist, this abridged version offers a worthwhile diversion for a day's outing-with or without the kids.(5 Hours; 4 cassettes)
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
An immensely appealing heroine, a historical setting conveyed with impressive fidelity and a charming and poignant love story make Smiley's (A Thousand Acres) new novel a sure candidate for bestseller longevity. Lidie Harkness, a spinster at 20, is an anomaly in 1850s Illinois. She has an independent mind, a sharp tongue and a backbone; she prefers to swim, shoot, ride and fish rather than spend a minute over the stove or with a darning needle. That makes her the perfect bride for Bostonian abolitionist Thomas Newton, who courts and marries her in a few days while enroute to Lawrence, K.T. (Kansas Territory), with a box of Sharps rifles. As the newlyweds gingerly come to know each other, they are plunged into the turmoil between pro-slavery Border Ruffians from Missouri and K.T. Free Staters, an increasingly savage conflict that presages the Civil War. Smiley evokes antebellum life with a depth of detail that easily equals Russell Banks's exploration of the same terrain in Cloudsplitter (Forecasts, Dec. 1, 1997). Her scenes of quotidian domesticity on the prairie are as engrossing as her evocation of riverboat travel on the Mississippi. Through an exquisite delineation of physical and social differences, she distinguishes and animates settings as diverse as Lawrence, Kansas City, St. Louis and New Orleans. As Lidie and Thomas experience privation, danger and the growing pleasures of emotional intimacy, and as tragedy strikes and Lidie pursues a perilous revenge, Smiley explores the complex moral issues of the time, paying acute attention to inbred attitudes on both sides of the slavery question. Propelled by Lidie's spirited voice, this narrative is packed with drama, irony, historical incident, moral ambiguities and the perception of human frailty. Much of its suspenseful momentum derives from Smiley's adherence to plausible reality: this is not a novel in which things necessarily turn out right for the heroine, for women in general, for blacks or for the righteous. Lidie's character deepens as she gains insight into the ambiguous and complex forces that propel men and women into love and compassion, hatred and violence. In the end, this novel performs all the functions of superior fiction: in reading one woman's moving story, we understand an historical epoch, the social and political conditions that produced it and the psychological, moral and economic motivations of the people who incited and endured its violent confrontations. 200,000 first printing; Random House audio. Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
--This text refers to the
Jane Smiley is one of those authors who seem to have the need to reinvent themselves with each new book. In The All-True Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton, she has adopted the stylistic devices of 19th century writing and speech to bring this story of a young woman's experiences in 'Bloody Kansas' to life. So successfully does Smiley present the character of Lidie Newton that it is hard for the reader to believe this person didn't really live - that these aren't the actual words of a real life. This is a tough book in some ways. What the heroine experiences is not often pleasant. The physiscal and emotional suffering are clear and felt by the reader. I always take it as a sign that an author has been successful when I find myself experiencing anger, disappointment, elation or relief on behalf of a book's charcters, and in Smiley's new book this was a constant. Somehow the story of Lidie Newton seemed personal to me right from the start. I suspect that Jane Smiley modeled the character on herself in some ways, because she lives on the page more vibrantly than any Smiley character I can remember. Whether this is true or not is irrelevant. What is important is that one comes to know and care about Lidie Newton; therefore anything that happens to her or that she thinks about becomes important for the reader. One of the strengths of the book is the main character's intellectual and spiritual growth. Things don't just happen to her, she learns from what happens. Still, the ending may not please some, because it doesn't show her as clearly triumphant. But it is true to life, and that is what the whole book is about.
I read a lot of historical fiction, and am by training an historian, so I feel qualified to give this book a solid thumbs-up review. Smiley has chosen an historical period and locale not frequently visited by modern novelists. Her exploration of the antebellum Kansas frontier reveals many little-known events and interesting historical figures. I found it admirable that Smiley allowed the central character, Liddie Newton, to be shaped and changed by the events of her life. Many authors create a rock-like character and bounce events off of them, but Liddie is very realistically painted. Knowing something of history and of the complexities of public opinion in the pre-war period will help readers enjoy this book more, but I think anyone who likes a good story told gently will appreciate Liddie Newton.
Was this review helpful to you?
Another great read by Jane Smiley! I first heard about this novel after an Austrian friend's daughter told me how much she liked it - and that she was writing a book report on this novel for her American history class! I read this while down with a bad flu and enjoyed every page. Some of the comments about the book mention the slow pace of the novel. I thought that this was perfectly appropriate for the time - Smiley's talent brings you back and lets you imagine what it would be like for us to live 150 years ago; daily life was so much more physically difficult and repetitive. Still the people in her novels will remind you of people you know while you learn about another time and place from a woman's point of view. Great book!
One comment must be made about the so-called review by "SC" of November 5, 2004. It's fine, SC, if you don't agree with Smiley's opinion piece/political analysis of the red state/blue state divide **PUBLISHED IN SLATE.com, NOT THIS BOOK!** but criticizing THIS book for a political opinion published elsewhere is ridiculous. It is completely inappropriate of SC to leave this sort of negative and completely irrelevant comment about Smiley's OTHER WRITINGS when SC is supposed to be reviewing THIS BOOK!
For example, in my opinion (and in my dad's, as well!) William F. Buckley has contemptible political opinions. Nevertheless, my dad loved his books and would never mix his dislike of Buckley's politics with his criticism or praise of Buckley's fiction.
SC has posted this "thought-police" comment for EACH AND EVERY ONE of Smiley's books. SC's review has no place here - it is clearly contrary to the intent of the rating program.
Was this review helpful to you?
Let me begin by saying that this is a good book. You would not be wasting your time by reading it. However, there are several problems with the way this is written that make me think Jane Smiley at some point lost control of what she was trying to accomplish. First, the book is basically divided into two parts--a long segment that takes place in the Kansas Territory, and a not-as-long part that takes Lidie off on the adventures alluded to in the title. The first part is way too long. Although I understand Smiley needed to set everything up in order to knock it down, there must have been a way to do it in fewer pages. Reading about how difficult life is in the Kansas territory gets tiresome after a while, and I was just waiting and waiting for something to happen. When things finally do begin to happen, however, Smiley crams so much action into the second half of the book that there's barely a chance to take it all in, and the various events lose their impact. After the rush of all these events, the book just kind of fizzles out. You never learn what becomes of the rest of Lidie's life, which is pretty frustrating. Another problem is that Lidie herself starts out as a neutral sort of character--she becomes an abolitionist because her new husband is one, but she admits that she has never thought much about the issues herself. Maybe Smiley intended to have Lidie become more righteous and firmly abolitionist as the novel went on, but this just doesn't happen. She seems pretty neutral about the slavery issue right up to the end. Which is not to say that the book doesn't take a stand against slavery--it does, in a powerful way. But it does so through an escaped slave named Lorna, not through the ambivalent Lidie herself.Read more ›