I have read this book 3 x's over 35 years. It is one of the best books I've read regarding how it really was for women as settlers on the prairies. It is a very different take on the tragedies of their lives and the characters and their struggles are very real. It is easy to understand why so many women didn't survive mentally.
Normally I'm not what's known as a "cover junkie," but the cover of The Homesman showing a lone sod house in endless waves of prairie grass under an eternity of sky grabbed me. When I read the synopsis, I knew I had a purchase to make. Decades ago I remember coming across a comment in a history book which stated that women in those "soddies" out on the Great Plains had been known to go insane just from loneliness and the ceaseless keening of the wind. That was all that was said, but those words stuck in my mind like a burr. Now here was a novel in which the story of these lost voices could be heard.
Author Glendon Swarthout was always more interested in the losers in the Old West. What happened to them? What were their stories? In doing research, he didn't find much about what was done about people who were mentally ill, and what he did find was about the men-- who were likely to die of exposure or disease, to become alcoholics, or even to be shot down like rabid dogs in some out-of-the-way corner. But what happened to the women? Even back in the 1850s you couldn't just shoot a woman. The Homesman is Swarthout's solution, and it is spare, poetic, and brutally honest.
Superficially it is the simple tale of a man and a woman taking four helpless women cross country in a wagon to get them the sort care that they need. But the troubles Mary Bee and Briggs encounter on the trail, the people they meet, and just their close proximity to each other, begin to change them in subtle ways. This book is heartbreaking, it is brutal, and it is shocking. It tells a tale that many readers aren't particularly going to want to read, and perhaps that's the exact reason why they should read it. This is a story about the losers, those who were completely lost to history. The reasons why these beleaguered people failed were never going to be pretty or cheerful, but they should be remembered.
As I read, I began to feel cheated that the four women being taken back to Iowa didn't have any real dialogue or interaction with the others. Then I just had to shake my head at my own foolishness. The four women in The Homesman had been bludgeoned past caring by work with no end, by giving birth to one baby after another, by the brutal vagaries of the weather, and often by cruelty from their own husbands. These women had completely given up; they had been reduced to things that needed to be moved from Point A to Point B.
No, it's Mary Bee and Briggs who carry the load of thinking and conversation and action, and even their stories don't go as most readers would like. But as shocking as their tales may be, Swarthout plants clues all along the trail for us to notice. I was completely under this book's spell, and even though I didn't like how everything turned out, I still loved it. Now I'm looking forward to how Hollywood treats a very un-Hollywood novel. It will be interesting.
Life was hard for men settling the west, but it was even harder for women, children and families. Some women reached the limits of their endurance and lost their minds as a result. The Homesman tells the story of a small comunity that engaged a 'Homesman' to escort several unfortunate women to their families back in the eastern states. Mary Bee Cuddy, school teacher, 'plain as an old tin pail', is the 'Homesman' for her small community. For help on her jouney, she engages a 'lowlife army deserter' she manages to rescue from hanging.
Tail of hardships of the trail as well as personal loneliness and overwhelming isolation that lead to unexpected and unfortunate outcomes. This well-written and intriguing novel portrays vivid characters and western life in an unusual story. Not a romance nor a typical western.
Haunting and bittersweet. An riveting account of frontier life you never hear about. I thought the movie was excellent, but the book blew me away since it gave more detail into the thoughts of Mary Bee, Griggs, and even the afflicted women's personal experiences. I wish there could have been a happier ending in the traditional sense, but there simply was no sugarcoating its realistic and stark details. What a heart-wrenching, difficult life. Fascinating. Highly recommended at 5 stars.
This was an excellent book, easy to read, yet possessing depth. Mr. Swarthout doesn't tell you any lies.
There is an event that occurs in the book which you don't expect at all. And the reason that you don't expect it, is that it is not how Hollywood generally does things. It made alot of sense if you are actually putting yourself into the 1850s frontier, and not in romantic, perfectly happy ending Hollywood.
That being said, the book was very good, the end was satisfying, and if it took me somewhere I didn't expect to go, so much the better. It's not like I was on safari - I was never in any real danger - and it gave me compassion for people from whom I might be more naturally inclined to avert my eyes. These folks - Briggs, Cuddy, and the frontier wives - deserve to be seen, as their essences surely still exist today in others.
If you like stories of the American frontier and history, this is for you. This has a very surprising ending. Paul Newman said "I hope the film is as good as the book."
I could read this this over and over and over. I loved it!!!! I'ts now one of my top favorites. This read was so out of my usual genre but i'm so glad I choose it.The synopsis was very interesting (and I gotta admit the cover is beautiful). If after you read the synopsis it sounds like something you just might enjoy then don't pass this one up.
Fascinating story with a strange ending.
This book is soon to be released as a movie. I hope the movie does the book justice. The storyline is wonderful, women out west go insane from the trauma of prairie life, losing babies, being attached by animals, being stuck in a sod hut for months at a time in blizzards with no human contact, etc....a criminal and spinster are engaged to take them back east to family and friends who can care for them and along the way encounter more obstacles and tragedy. Makes you realize how lucky we are now. Quick read - 2 evenings for me! Highly recommend!
This book started out really good. The descriptions of the hardships of people and the landscape was vivid and believable. It's a part of pioneer history that isn't told much but its so important to know. The last part of the book was stupid. I was so disappointed in the ending that I gave it 3 stars.