Katy Simpson Smith * Harper * February 16, 2016 * 368 Pages
I know it’s only February, but Free Men is one of the best books I’ve read this year.
It’s the story of three men–Bob, Cat, and Istillicha–each significantly different from the others. The men are randomly thrown together, but somehow end up committing a gruesome crime. The book is mostly (though not entirely) told from their perspectives. Each of the three men gets a chance to talk about his past and what has led him to this current point. But there is also a fourth man, Le Clerc, who helps move the story along in real time (well, the real time of March 1788), as he attempts to hunt down the three criminals and bring them to justice.
I absolutely loved this book start to finish. The character development blew me away. Bob’s backstory comes first, and after I finished it, I thought, okay, that’s it. Author Smith has nowhere to go but down from here. She can’t top that. And then I read Cat’s backstory, and I fell in love with him, too. I mean, the writing is phenomenal. I was carried away by their stories.
I could tell right away that Smith was using the three main characters–and even Le Clerc, actually–to make a point about the tumultuous state of America during this specific time period. I was worried that she was going to become a bit heavy-handed with the metaphors, imagery, symbolism, blah, etc., but she never did. I could recognize the points Smith was making, but I never felt like she was beating me over the head with the obvious. Honestly, the balance in this book is remarkable–especially since it all felt so effortless.
In the end, I devoured Free Men in, like, a day. Katy Simpson Smith is definitely on my radar now, and I can’t wait to read her other, previously published book, The Story of Land and Sea: A Novel.