Free Men: A Novel

Free Men: A Novel

by Katy Simpson Smith


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From the author of the highly acclaimed The Story of Land and Sea comes a captivating novel, set in the late eighteenth-century American South, that follows a singular group of companions—an escaped slave, a white orphan, and a Creek Indian—who are being tracked down for murder.

In 1788, three men converge in the southern woods of what is now Alabama. Cat, an emotionally scarred white man from South Carolina, is on the run after abandoning his home. Bob is a talkative black man fleeing slavery on a Pensacola sugar plantation, Istillicha, edged out of his Creek town’s leadership, is bound by honor to seek retribution.

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 lives of the women they left behind. Far from being anomalies, Cat, Bob, and Istillicha are the beating heart of the new America that Le Clerc struggles to comprehend. In these territories caught between European, American, and Native nations, a wilderness exists where four men grapple with the importance of family, the stain of guilt, and the competing forces of power, love, race, and freedom—questions that continue to haunt us today.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780062407580
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 02/14/2017
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 953,805
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Katy Simpson Smith is the author of a study of early American motherhood, We Have Raised All of You: Motherhood in the South, 1750-1835, and a novel, The Story of Land and Sea. She lives in New Orleans.

Customer Reviews

Free Men: A Novel 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
KarenEvans More than 1 year ago
A Native American, a slave, and a white man walk into a… forest. You thought I was going to say something else didn’t you? Katy Simpson Smith has a PhD in history and found a source that talked about four American loyalists murdered in 1788 by the three men mentioned above. She took the story and ran with it creating a historical fiction novel about the lives of these three individuals before and after their crime. They are also being trailed by a French man who married a Native American and so we get his story as well. I enjoyed this book although it was one that required a bit more concentration and I kept daydreaming today. It was told through many different perspectives and sometimes I would forget to look at the chapter headings to see who was talking, but that was my fault. It was very well written and the characters were anything, but flat.
KrittersRamblings More than 1 year ago
Check the full review at Kritters Ramblings A black slave who is trying to find freedom, an Indian who is trying to seek revenge and a white man who is trying to run from events of his past come together and kill and steal from a pack of men and must run together from the man tracking them. Each character including the tracker gets an opportunity to tell their back story and how they got to their current predicament. I was so intrigued to find out not only the back story of each individual, but what led them to each other.
Twink More than 1 year ago
3.5 Katy Simpson Smith opens her latest novel, Free Men, with a quote from Albert James Pickett's 1851 book, History of Alabama, and Incidentally of Georgia and Mississippi, from the Earliest Period. "About this time, a bloody transaction occurred in the territory of the present county of Conecuh....The part consisted of a Hillabee Indian, who had murdered so many men, that he was called Istillicha, the Man-slayer --- a desperate white man, who had fled from the States for the crime of murder, and whom, on account of his activity and ferocity, the Indians called the Cat --- and a blood-thirsty negro, named Bob." And this is the jump off point for Smith's novel. 1788. She puts this unlikely trio together, on the run from not just their pasts, but a murder they all have a hand in. Smith creates detailed back stories for each of them even as they run towards what they hope will be a better life. Chasing them is another white man, just as determined that they be captured. I loved that Free Men was based on documented historical fact. Each man is given a chapter and a unique voice. Smith's prose are rich with details, descriptions, emotions, hopes, dreams, fears and more. Freedom, guilt and relationships with women are themes Smith explores through each set of eyes. Free Men is not a book you can rush through. Smith's pacing is slower and her work is quite beautiful, but I did find myself having to put the book down every so often, returning later to pick up the story, as I found it to be a heavy read. But a good one.
SherreyM More than 1 year ago
FTC Disclosure: I received a copy of this book 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.