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. Read an excerpt of Free Men.
"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." Connect with Katy Simpson Smith through her website. See what others on the TLC book tour thought - full schedule can be found here.