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The All-True Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton: A Novel [Paperback]

Jane Smiley
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Dec 29 1998 Ballantine Reader's Circle

Pulitzer Prize-winning author of A Thousand Acres

"Rousing . . . Action-packed . . . A gripping story about love, fortitude, and convictions that are worth fighting for."

--Los Angeles Times


"POWERFUL . . . Smiley takes us back to Kansas in 1855, a place of rising passions and vast uncertainties. Narrated in the spirited, unsentimental voice of 20-year-old Lidie Newton, the novel is at once an ambitious examination of a turning point in history and the riveting story of one woman's journey into uncharted regions of place and self."

--Chicago Tribune

"[A] grand tale of the moral and political upheavals igniting antebellum frontier life and a heroine so wonderfully fleshed and unforgettable you will think you are listening to her story instead of reading it. Smiley may have snared a Pulitzer for A Thousand Acres . . . but it is with Lydia (Lidie) Harkness Newton that she emphatically captures our hearts. . . . The key word in Smiley's title is Adventures, and Lydia's are crammed with breathless movement, danger, and tension; populated by terrifically entertaining characters and securely grounded in telling detail."

--The Miami Herald

"SMILEY BRILLIANTLY EVOKES MID-19TH-CENTURY LIFE. . . . Richly imagined and superbly written, Jane Smiley's new novel is an extraordinary accomplishment in an already distinguished career."

--Atlanta Journal-Constitution

"A SPRAWLING EPIC . . . A garrulous, nights-by-the-hearth narrative not unlike those classics of the period it emulates. In following a rebellious young woman of 1855 into Kansas Territory and beyond, the novel is so persuasively authentic that it reads like a forgotten document from the days of Twain and Stowe."

--The Boston Sunday Globe


--The New York Times Book Review

"ENGAGING . . . [A] HARROWING ADVENTURE . . . This picaresque tale presents a series of remarkable characters, particularly in the inexperienced narrator, whose graphic descriptions of travel and domestic life before the Civil War strip away romantic notions of simpler times. . . . Smiley has created an authentic voice in this struggle of a young woman to live simply amid a swirl of deadly antagonism."

--The Christian Science Monitor

"A fine historical novel that describes a fascinating time and place . . . It is both funny and subtle, rich in ideas . . . Smiley has created a better all-around piece of fiction than any of her previous work, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning A Thousand Acres."

--The Wall Street Journal

"Smiley is a writer of rare versatility who travels widely in her creative endeavors. She proved her mastery of both short fiction and the novel with three sterling works (The Age of Grief, Ordinary Love and Good Will, and A Thousand Acres); her fondness for history had already been established with The Greelanders. In 1995, she successfully extended her repertoire to comedy with the hilarious academic satire Moo. What her new novel shares with all these works is its authorial intelligence."

--The Boston Sunday Globe

"Jane Smiley is nothing if not protean, a literary ventriloquist of incredible range. . . . This is a novel that manages to combine the evocative storyteller's voice with the moviemaker's sense of drama and visuals, an old-fashioned tale told with contemporary steam and panache."

--The Philadelphia Inquirer

"Not only is this a rollicking feminist tale of a woman who can handle herself in the thick of the Kansas Wars, The All-True Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton is also a coming of age story as well as a lasting portrait of the genuinely tumultuous time just before the Civil War."

--The Raleigh News & Observer

"A tale of love and war, revenge and betrayal, Smiley's fictional memoir invites comparisons with Gone with the Wind, even War and Peace. . . . Lidie Newton has the ring of honesty and truth. It also carries the stamp of its author's historical sense, stylistic verve, and moral passion."

--St. Louis Post-Dispatch

"Full of the same arresting authenticity of detail that carried A Thousand Acres."

--New York Daily News

The All-True Travels is a showcase for Smiley's range and dexterity, dead-on in its emotional impact and resonant in the painful truths it conveys."

--San Diego Union-Tribune

"Rendered in sharply lucid prose and filled with wonderful period detail . . . Lidie's story reads like a long and various dream, brightly colored and brilliantly observed--a journey into a world as troubled, ambiguous, and full of life as our own."

--Chicago Tribune

"An adventure story, full of suspense, near-misses, and coincidence . . . The first and sustaining marvel of [Smiley's] new novel is Lydia Newton's voice: grounded in 19th-century reserve, yet honest, self-aware, and curious."

--Toronto Globe & Mail

"Smiley nabbed a Pulitzer for A Thousand Acres. This stunning new effort should win equally thunderous acclaim."


"An immensely appealing heroine, a historical setting conveyed with impressive fidelity and a charming and poignant love story make Smiley's new novel a sure candidate for bestseller longevity. . . . Propelled by Lidie's spirited voice, this narrative is packed with drama, irony, historical incident, moral ambiguities, and the perception of human frailty. . . . This novel performs all the functions of superior fiction: in reading one woman's moving story, we understand an historical epoch, the social and political conditions that produced it, and the psychological, moral, and economic motivations of the people who incited and endured its violent confrontations."

--Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Gloriously detailed and brilliantly told, this is a hugely entertaining, illuminating, and sagacious vision of a time of profound moral and political conflict, and of one woman's coming to terms with the perilous, maddening, and precious world."

--Booklist (starred review)

"Smiley scales another peak with this bighearted and thoughtful picaresque novel. . . . [A] richly entertaining saga of a woman who might have been well matched with Thomas Berger's Little Big Man, and whom Huck Finn would have been proud to claim as his big sister."

--Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"HER FINEST WORK YET . . . Resembling a cross between the writing of Jane Austen, Stephen Crane, and Mark Twain . . . A fast-paced historical ride through a defining moment in our nation's history as seen through the eyes of a remarkable woman. . . . Smiley's biggest triumph is in the character of Lidie. One can actually 'see' her growth throughout the story as Lidie learns about the ambiguity of human morality--and that true justice is rarely served."

--San Antonio Express-News

"Highly recommended . . . Trust Smiley to take a situation charged with both social significance and novelistic opportunity and ride it for all its worth. . . . Smiley gives us a rich lode of historical detail yet keep the story moving, so that it seems to flow by like a river while at the same time yielding up its riches in leisurely fashion."

--Library Journal (starred review)

"Like Cold Mountain and Beloved--and with more than a casual nod to Mark Twain--this sprawling saga by the Pulitzer-winning author of A Thousand Acres connects readers to the historical issues of the time."


"Our heroine is a horse-riding, river-swimming, plain-faced young woman with a distinctly well-calibrated mind of her own."

--The Baltimore Sun

"A long, wild adventure . . . Lidie never loses her pluck, and her story becomes both a rich homage to Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and a thrilling variation on the derring-do of Lonesome Dove."

--Outside magazine

"[A] gripping, epic new novel . . . The All-True Travels is consistently absorbing, thanks in large part to the strong, vibrant voice of the unforgettable Lidie Newton."

--Good Housekeeping

"Packed with action in a setting worthy of a Western shoot-'em-up."

--Newark Star-Ledger

"ROUSING . . . ACTION-PACKED . . . A gripping story about love, fortitude, and convictions that are worth fighting for regardless of the outcome. . . . The voice Smiley creates for her sympathetic and wonderfully human heroine is sharp, engaging, wry, and wise."

--Los Angeles Times

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Product Description

From Amazon

All too often, this abridged version of the cassette edition of The All-True Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton leaves the listener breathless. Jane Smiley's 450-page action-packed story of pioneers in the 1850s has been reduced, here, to four compact tapes, each one galloping across the prairie landscape of abolitionist politics and homesteading hardships with the abandon of the Pony Express. Read by actress Mare Winningham (Georgia, St. Elmo's Fire), the tale belongs entirely to its resilient heroine, Lidie Newton, whose whirlwind adventures begin with her marriage to abolitionist Thomas Newton and their departure for the Kansas Territory. There, the uneasy co-existence between emigrant abolitionists and pro-slavery Missourians is forever erupting, spewing forth disreputable characters and spirited subplots that tax even Lidie's tenacious optimism. Winningham has fun adding vocal nuance to this colorful cast, though Lidie emerges a little more refined on tape than she appears in print. In the interest of economy, the tapes also eliminate context-such as the overheated political backdrop for so many events or the private voices of the Newton marriage. Here is Lidie a few months into her marriage, in a passage omitted from this cassette: "Thus, I sat across from my husband. . .wondering whether he was the closed, dull, stiffly upright, and self-righteous person part of me seemed to see, or the pained, lonely, and worried person another part of me seemed to see." By losing these rare glimpses at an introspective Lidie, the tapes sacrifice the deeper dimensions of the book. Stripped of the more writerly Smiley, they leave, instead, a fast-paced, entertaining story, narrowly saved from melodrama by Lidie's clear-eyed view of matters and Smiley's fluid handling of the narrative. If you're not a purist, this abridged version offers a worthwhile diversion for a day's outing-with or without the kids.(5 Hours; 4 cassettes) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

An immensely appealing heroine, a historical setting conveyed with impressive fidelity and a charming and poignant love story make Smiley's (A Thousand Acres) new novel a sure candidate for bestseller longevity. Lidie Harkness, a spinster at 20, is an anomaly in 1850s Illinois. She has an independent mind, a sharp tongue and a backbone; she prefers to swim, shoot, ride and fish rather than spend a minute over the stove or with a darning needle. That makes her the perfect bride for Bostonian abolitionist Thomas Newton, who courts and marries her in a few days while enroute to Lawrence, K.T. (Kansas Territory), with a box of Sharps rifles. As the newlyweds gingerly come to know each other, they are plunged into the turmoil between pro-slavery Border Ruffians from Missouri and K.T. Free Staters, an increasingly savage conflict that presages the Civil War. Smiley evokes antebellum life with a depth of detail that easily equals Russell Banks's exploration of the same terrain in Cloudsplitter (Forecasts, Dec. 1, 1997). Her scenes of quotidian domesticity on the prairie are as engrossing as her evocation of riverboat travel on the Mississippi. Through an exquisite delineation of physical and social differences, she distinguishes and animates settings as diverse as Lawrence, Kansas City, St. Louis and New Orleans. As Lidie and Thomas experience privation, danger and the growing pleasures of emotional intimacy, and as tragedy strikes and Lidie pursues a perilous revenge, Smiley explores the complex moral issues of the time, paying acute attention to inbred attitudes on both sides of the slavery question. Propelled by Lidie's spirited voice, this narrative is packed with drama, irony, historical incident, moral ambiguities and the perception of human frailty. Much of its suspenseful momentum derives from Smiley's adherence to plausible reality: this is not a novel in which things necessarily turn out right for the heroine, for women in general, for blacks or for the righteous. Lidie's character deepens as she gains insight into the ambiguous and complex forces that propel men and women into love and compassion, hatred and violence. In the end, this novel performs all the functions of superior fiction: in reading one woman's moving story, we understand an historical epoch, the social and political conditions that produced it and the psychological, moral and economic motivations of the people who incited and endured its violent confrontations. 200,000 first printing; Random House audio.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars But still not sure what to think... May 3 2004
By mktgmom
I just finished "Lidie Newton" last night and I have to say I'm still divided on whether I'd recommend this book. I guess the best way to qualify it is that I'm not sure I'd suggest it to a friend, but I'd definitely like it if my daughters read it.
I make my home in Kansas City and so the historical aspect was particularly interesting to me, probably much more so than for someone who did not grow up here. Having a first-person account from a character as interesting as Lidie also made it more appealing. She's a great character -- more confused than noble, plain, funny, selfish on one hand and tender on the other, smart about some things and really ignorant on others. Jane Smiley knows how to write great characters and Lidie was a much better history lesson than any I remember getting in school. (I had to refresh my memory on the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the Missouri Compromise when I read this).
However, I do agree with readers who complain that the book drags in places... it does. Those slower places may reveal some interesting tidbit but what could have been said in one page seemed to go on for five. The temptation to skim was really overwhelming, especially after she leaves K.T. for Missouri. People who are looking for a satisfying ending will not get one, as the book just seems to abruptly stop with no hint of what or where Lidie's life will be made. This is what keeps it from being a "five star" book and an unqualified "must read". Because sometimes I had to MAKE myself read it.
That being said, I'm glad I did. It really made me think about the beliefs and the behaviors of the people who settled here -- some, my own relatives. While most of the book is understandably pro-Kansas, anti-Missouri, Ms.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Even better the third time . . . Dec 5 2001
I've read this novel twice and listened to it once on tape and found it to be thoroughly enjoyable each reading. The description of the conflict in Kansas Territory between the abolitionists and the Missourians was rivoting and engaging. Smiley provided an immense amount of detailed history--clearly she did her homework. Some readers find this distracting from the story; personally, I find that it added an originality and realism to the narrative. This is not a conversational piece; rather it is the narrative of Lidie's experiences, not her emotions. Lidie is appealing to me as a heroine because she is portrayed so realistically with a mix of passive and aggressive traits. As a reader I sometimes found her inaction frustrating; however, inaction is a part of life. Other readers have complained that the novel is depressing; I object to that analysis. The All-True Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton is not an escapist novel and one should not expect it to be. In my opinion, it is a de-Romanticized retelling of Huck Finn with a woman as the lead character. I highly recommend this book as one of my favorite novels and Smiley as one of my favorite authors.
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1.0 out of 5 stars Now that I've finished the book... Oct. 22 2001
I wrote a review while I was still reading this, and now that I'm done, I've downgraded it to a one star. History is supposed to be a backdrop in historical novels, but in this one, Liddie's monotonous narrative about events and people overwhelms the story. I finally began skipping the long narratives, and don't feel I missed anything. Apparently, it seems that Smiley was more interested in showing off her research than in telling a good story.
The second half was really dull. I couldn't really figure out why Liddie pinpointed those certain men as the ones who killed her husband. That was really unclear. Her dressing as a man held promise, but that fizzled out too quickly. Her reasons for not accepting a lift to Independence were entirely unconvincing. Worse yet was the ending. We have Liddie return home finally to Quincy, and then the story suddenly skips ten years to the end of the Civil War. She says that she and Frank spoke of Kansas for the first time--but what was she doing ten years in the future? Where was she living, was she married, or what?
All I can say, is I'm glad I bought it used. Better yet, I should've just borrowed it from the library.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Not what I expected Oct. 14 2001
I'm still reading this book, but it is not what I expected. I thought this would be a story of an adventurous young woman who travels out west and does something--maybe starts a business, opens a saloon, becomes the first female sheriff...instead, she marries and has a man take her to Kansas, and all they're doing is fighting the pro-slave folks from Missouri. In between, she's cooking corncakes and sewing quilts. What happened to the strong woman from the first few chapters?
At any rate, I can't keep track of all of the characters that are thrown in. All of their friends in K.T. are completely indistinguishable from one another. I find that I'm skipping paragraphs and even pages of boring dialog and trying to get back to Liddie's story. The history is interesting, but it's getting tiring because it's the same thing repeated over and over again. So maybe I'll read on, because I would like to see some adventure and travels as the title says. But for now, a two star is all its getting.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars An All-True Adventure For You
I began reading this book while on vacation in Pawley's Island, North Carolina. The book came with the house (Nichols). Read more
Published on Jan. 22 2004
4.0 out of 5 stars A Pleasant Variation in Historical Fiction
I read a lot of historical fiction, and am by training an historian, so I feel qualified to give this book a solid thumbs-up review. Read more
Published on Oct. 23 2000 by Chuck Sherrill
5.0 out of 5 stars The best thing I've read all summer
Jane Smiley has done her best job ever! I liked A THOUSAND ACRES, but I loved LIDIE NEWTON. I knew very little about pre-Civil War Kansas, and by the time I finished the book, I... Read more
Published on Sept. 19 2000
3.0 out of 5 stars A good book that could have been much better
Let me begin by saying that this is a good book. You would not be wasting your time by reading it. However, there are several problems with the way this is written that make me... Read more
Published on May 28 2000
4.0 out of 5 stars A Fascinating Look at K.T.
This work is certainly nothing like Moo, the only other Smiley book I'd read to date. While I enjoyed that book, I REALLY enjoyed this one. Read more
Published on March 23 2000
2.0 out of 5 stars I expected better from Ms. Smiley
Jane Smiley is one of my favorite authors (I adored A Thousand Acres). However, this was a huge disappointment. I never could get into the book... Read more
Published on Feb. 23 2000 by Teresa J. Wolfe
5.0 out of 5 stars An Unexpected Treasure
I've read most of Jane Smiley's books, and found this one in hardcover at rock-bottom-remainder prices. I bought it just because I was out of reading material... It was wonderful! Read more
Published on Feb. 7 2000
3.0 out of 5 stars Lidie, slow moving but a good read
This historical fiction was loaded with interesting twists and characters; however, it was a little slow moving. Read more
Published on Jan. 22 2000
3.0 out of 5 stars Liddie, slow moving but a good read
This historical fiction was loaded with interesting twists and characters; however, it was a little slow moving. Read more
Published on Jan. 22 2000
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