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The Homesman: A Novel | [Glendon Swarthout]

The Homesman: A Novel

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.
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Publisher's Summary

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

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

3.9 (176 )
5 star
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3.9 (164 )
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4.1 (159 )
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3 star
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2 star
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Performance
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  •  
    Taryn Suffern, NY, United States 12-02-14
    Taryn Suffern, NY, United States 12-02-14 Member Since 2006

    Addicted to Audible!

    HELPFUL VOTES
    1396
    ratings
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    342
    184
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    "Interesting topic, great for discussion"

    I read this book a year ago and it was suggested for my book club. I didnt want to read it again so I listened the second time around. I enjoyed the audio better than the hard copy. It's an interesting story about a topic I didn't think much about before - women on the prairie who had mental breakdowns. I found it to be a fascinating subject. It was a great bookclub choice and generated excellent discussion. I was looking forward to seeing the movie, but it never seemed to make it to the movie theatres. This story makes you very thankful for living in modern times!

    5 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    C. Oneal California 03-04-14
    C. Oneal California 03-04-14 Member Since 2012

    I'm addicted to Audible. A new grandma I am responsible for my grandsons library, which reignited my interest in books.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Great story but the end was a huge diappointment"

    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.

    5 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Marina 04-27-14
    Marina 04-27-14 Member Since 2005

    Early adopter, longtime listener, bookhungry.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "hugely disappointing"

    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.

    9 of 10 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Janice Sugar Land, TX, United States 03-02-14
    Janice Sugar Land, TX, United States 03-02-14 Member Since 2010

    Rating scale: 5=Loved it, 4=Liked it, 3=Ok, 2=Disappointed, 1=Hated it. I look for well developed characters, compelling stories.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    Story
    "Riding into a different sunset"

    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.

    7 of 8 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Sharon West Monroe, LA, United States 04-17-14
    Sharon West Monroe, LA, United States 04-17-14 Member Since 2009

    Humanitarian Aid Worker living in Central Asia.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Wait, What? The story disintegrates 3/4 way in."

    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.

    6 of 7 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Marjorie Santa Rosa, CA, United States 04-14-14
    Marjorie Santa Rosa, CA, United States 04-14-14 Member Since 2015

    I enjoy literary fiction with character depth and psychological exploration. I am in my 50s, work in psychology, and love the outdoors.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Adventure, Prose, History - Fantastic"

    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.

    6 of 7 people found this review helpful
  •  
    keasha 09-30-14
    keasha 09-30-14 Member Since 2013
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    "Great until 3/4 of the way in..then it fell apart"

    What a great story with super characters. The story was moving along nicely, then the author totally changed the entire story line. Confused and disappointed.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Linda 02-28-14
    Linda 02-28-14 Member Since 2010

    I am waiting patiently for the best book on earth!!

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "This could have been a great story~"
    Any additional comments?

    The book was good unitl about 3/4 of the way through. Hated how it ended.

    4 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jean Santa Cruz, CA, United States 07-31-14
    Jean Santa Cruz, CA, United States 07-31-14 Member Since 2015

    I am an avid eclectic reader.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Heartbreaking story"

    This is a different type of western tale. The story deals with the problems of mental illness in the western frontier of the 1870’s. Mental illness and severe depression was a major problem on the prairies in the 1800s much of it was blamed on the isolation suffered by the women for long periods of time.

    In this story the author tells the tale of women living in sod huts during a severe winter with brutish husbands who treat them like beasts of burden, with children who die wholesale from diphtheria and other infectious diseases and going through childbirth alone. Swarthout tells of Mary Bee Cuddy a 30ish spinster, tough as nails, who has a nice homestead near Loup, in the Nebraska Territory. Cuddy will take four insane women to a town at the Iowa-Nebraska border where a minister’s wife will see they go back to their families or to an asylum. Mary B takes along “Cull” to help her on the trip, after she saved him from a lynching.

    Homespun was first printed in 1988 and rereleased in 2014. Swarthout characters are heart-wrenchingly believable because they are drawn from true-life pioneer experiences. The author‘s prose flows smoothly, but with a dangerous undercurrent. I understand this book was made into a movie, first in 1988 starring Paul Newman and again in 2014. The current movie stars Tommy Lee Jones and Hilary Swank. The woman who takes the ill women is played by Meryl Streep. Four other Swarthout books have been made into movies by John Wayne. Swarthout writes across a number of genres but it is his western that were made into movies. Swarthout died in 1992. Candace Thaxton did an excellent job narrating the book.

    3 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Elaine 05-12-14
    Elaine 05-12-14

    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.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Part of the Wild West you never hear about"

    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.

    2 of 3 people found this review helpful
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  • Eithne
    2/15/15
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Captivating Homesman"

    lLoved it ! Completely transported me to the vast frontier with all its challenges excellent

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Hannah
    12/1/14
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "The Reality of Winning the West"

    This version of the story is better than the movie. The narratation is clear and draws you in to the tale. It makes more sense than the film but is also more hardhitting. It isn't surprising that some critics refer to this as the first feminist western - but it might be better to refer to it as the first nihilist Western. Happy Ending Territory this ain't.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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