In pioneer Nebraska, a woman leads where no man will go.
Soon to be a major motion picture directed by Tommy Lee Jones, The Homesman is a devastating story of early pioneers in 1850s American West. It celebrates the ones we hear nothing of: the brave women whose hearts and minds were broken by a life of bitter hardship. A "homesman" must be found to escort a handful of them back East to a sanitarium. When none of the county’s men steps up, the job falls to Mary Bee Cuddy - ex-teacher, spinster, indomitable and resourceful. Brave as she is, Mary Bee knows she cannot succeed alone. The only companion she can find is the low-life claim jumper George Briggs. Thus begins a trek east, against the tide of colonization, against hardship, Indian attacks, ice storms, and loneliness - a timeless classic told in a series of tough, fast-paced adventures.
In an unprecedented sweep, Glendon Swarthout’s novel won both the Western Writers of America’s Spur Award and the Western Heritage Wrangler Award. A new afterword by the author’s son Miles Swarthout tells of his parents Glendon and Kathryn’s discovery of and research into the lives of the oft-forgotten frontier women who make The Homesman as moving and believable as it is unforgettable.
©2014 Glendon Swarthout (P)2013 Simon & Schuster
Rating scale: 5=Loved it, 4=Liked it, 3=Ok, 2=Disappointed, 1=Hated it. I look for well developed characters, compelling stories.
For the greater part of this story I was sure I knew where it was going, and felt a bit disappointed that it was going to be another “feisty woman paired with truculent man on a difficult trek across country” kind of western. We all know how it turns out before the credits start rolling. The back stories of the four women whose minds and spirits broke in the face of unbearable hardships and in some cases sorrows, were touching and heartbreaking. But on the journey itself, through the silence of their brokenness (none of them can talk), they have little impact on the narrative, making them nearly invisible. That leaves Mary Bee and Briggs to carry the drama, and for 3/4 of the story, it was pretty standard western movie stuff.
Then with two hours left to read, a wrecking ball hits and all bets are off. Suddenly we are forced to reevaluate our perceptions of both Mary Bee and Briggs, and realize that the clues were there all along. Mary Bee was the more fully created of the two characters – Briggs remains somewhat of an enigma through to the end. But I expect that was the point - perhaps even he didn’t fully understand himself. The twist, as shocking as it is, fits. In my opinion, that’s where this story finally rises above the “off into the sunset” westerns.
The writing throughout is descriptive and visual. The wagon they travel in almost becomes one of the characters. But the dialogue is less effective, feeling stiff and forced. In fairness, that may be more of a factor of the narrator. There was always that hearty frontierswoman sound that failed to capture the more subtle, complex moods and emotions of the characters. I was always aware of being read to. Dropped a point off the overall enjoyment.
I enjoy literary fiction with character depth and psychological exploration. I am in my 50s, work in psychology, and love the outdoors.
This book not only describes the hardships of the pioneers traveling the American West but it also provides the reader an adventure of unparalleled surprises. I did not want this book to end. I grew to respect and enjoy the female protagonist, Mary, and did not want to let her go when the book ended. It was refreshing to read a book of the Western frontier showing more of the female and family perspectives. The male protagonist was full of surprises with a character that continued to evolve until the end. It is difficult to write a review that could capture the beauty of this book without "spoiling" the plot. In summary, I like historical fiction if the storyline is interesting and fast paced while keeping the reader immersed in history and this book's got it. I highly recommend this book, it's a wild ride packed with adventure and with beautiful prose allowing the reader to experience the rugged beauty and complexities of the situations presented. Whether you like historical fiction or not, this book is a fantastic story.
Early adopter, longtime listener, bookhungry.
This begins as an interesting inversion of the western formula, with a strong spinster rancher carting four madwomen home to the east. She co-opts a rascally claim-jumper, after saving his life, and the crew sets off. So far, excellent. But Swarthout betrays this promise by abandoning the strong woman (after first negating his own creation by making her turn weak and silly) and switching point of view to the claim-jumper. The four madwomen, whose backstories are painstakingly detailed, are slammed into a box and never speak or act with volition again; they're no longer characters but just Woman 1, 2, 3, 4. I won't do a spoiler, but Swarthout cripples his own book by killing off a vital character in a ridiculous denial of everything the character is about, and then lets the story dwindle off for ages in a diminishing, eternal, and very disappointing denouement. This is not a book for women listeners, especially any who might identify either with a strong self-sufficient woman or a woman who's gone insane after dealing with fate, winter, and idiots.
Humanitarian Aid Worker living in Central Asia.
Listening to this in the beginning, I was thinking what a great story it was - honest and with a wonderful main female character. But then 3/4 the way through she does something so out of line from her character that it left me frustrated and wondering if the book was finished by another author. I wasn't expecting a rosy ending to the story or a neat finish, since life is rarely that tidy, but I expected an ending that respected the great characters that were created in the beginning of the story. It could have been one of my favorites. Very disappointed.
Have re-discovered "quality time." Evenings listening to good books have replaced mindless tv watching. What a difference!
Here is a novel that touches on one of the less known tragedies in the lives of courageous pioneer women. Glendon Swarthout has given us a very compelling story of the fate of a few women unable to withstand the almost unbelievable pressures and sacrifices of life after leaving all that was dear and familiar to move west with their husbands.
As the story unfolds we hear the back stories of four women who were unable to withstand the fear, the losses, the demands and incredible loneliness they suffered--often with no one to help them. In this story, the practical-minded and compassionate local minister has decided to help the women get back east, to either family or asylums. But finding someone to take the time to make the trip proves challenging. Finally the local school teacher, Mary Bee Cuddy, undertakes to make the journey. Realizing that she can't do it alone, makes a bargain with a criminal to help him stay alive in return for his assistance in getting them across the country. Those who took on this sad task were known as "homesmen."
The entire story is fascinating, though sometimes painful to listen to, but brings insight into the price paid by those who relocated to the west in the 1850's. The character development is very good--including the insensitivity of some husbands (not all) whose wives are afflicted with madness--or just giving up on living as a result of almost inhuman conditions they faced. Where I think it might be a bit romanticized is the way Cuddy and the criminal--who calls himself George Briggs--meet each other. That seemed a bit contrived, but it served to unite the most unlikely people to face an arduous journey crossing the country with four women suffering with severe mental illness.
A very poignant scene occurs when they meet a wagon train going west, and Cuddy would like to allow the women to meet and talk to the women from the other group, but is turned away, for fear their husbands would see the possible outcome of taking their wives into a life of great hardship that might leave them devastated before they even arrive.
This is a good book. I liked the narration, I liked the story. It almost seems written to have been made into a film, and I look forward to seeing it when that occurs! Highly recommend!
I did not learn to read until I was in my twenties. Have not stopped since. The two most important things to learn are reading & chess.
This book is one of my favorites so far this year. The story shows the tremendous hardships women experienced when pioneering West. Some crumbled under the pressure. This is a story of what happened to some of them that could not endure and lost their minds. Something I never thought happening or found mentioned in other stories about the West. It really opened my eyes on just how difficult it was to be a woman in the West during that period of history. It is exciting, heartbreaking, and even humorous at times. I was engrossed from beginning to the end.
I read both the positive reviews along with the negative. Some of the negative reviews focused on the stories ending and almost stopped me from buying. When reading reviews I read the good and bad, not so bad, and ugly. Then balance them the best I can, considering my own taste. I decided to purchase this book with the expectation of a poor ending. I became so engrossed in the book by the end I forgot about the negative reviews. The ending had some unexpected surprises but was probably the way things actually would have happened. After thinking back I realized the author gave us a few clues about some of the events at the end. I was completely satisfied.
I found the narration slightly distracting. It was the "sing/song" type and the narrator tried to put more emotion into the reading than is necessary. I got past that by speeding it up, which I do not like to do. In this case it helped. I found this story so good I will go back at listen to this again later this year and try and leave it the on normal speed.
I won't say much for fear of giving anything away, but I will say that this story really stayed with me. You might not necessarily like the lead characters - they definitely had their flaws - but they were true to themselves. I appreciate that. This was a fascinating glimpse into the past and, in its own way, haunting.
The narrator, Candace Thaxton, did a very nice job. So often narrators try to use different voices for the various characters that become more irritating than interesting. Thaxton maintained the integrity of the characters while reading us a great story.
I liked the twist in the last third of the book. Did not see that coming.
No - but I would listen to her again.
Mary B. Cutty - she was far from one dimensional and definitely not predictable.
I love historical fiction - this was a 4 star story for me. Also 4 star narration.
I'm addicted to Audible. A new grandma I am responsible for my grandsons library, which reignited my interest in books.
I cant believe with all that great writing it ended with a whimper. Really left me borderline angry that I got involved in reading it. It's like have a rich dessert that you are willing to risk the calories on because it's such a work of art and all the layers bring bursts of flavor. Then suddenly you bite into something that nearly breaks a tooth. Then the rest of the dessert just melts into mush while you're still trying to figure out what happened.
I am waiting patiently for the best book on earth!!
The book was good unitl about 3/4 of the way through. Hated how it ended.
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