Free Men by Katy Simpson Smith is a fine tale, though not one I would normally patronize. In this book, there were no ghastly hauntings, no demonic possessions, no black blood trickling down macabre halls, no gallivanting knights riding down dissidents, no rampaging Vikings, and there was certainly a marked absence of marauding mercenaries, bloodthirsty space pirates, and buxom maidens awaiting a daring rescue. That being said, this story piqued my interest. I think it was the cover. Despite what you may have learned in school, one can sometimes judge a book by its cover. Take a peek at the screenshot of the cover that I assume is portrayed right next to this missive. You can see thick, leafy foliage providing shelter to what appears to be a dry creek bed scattered with leaves and with an air of tranquility descending over all of the above. In fact the whole narrative is infused with picturesque scenery that makes one yearn for a virgin forest and an open schedule. But I digress.
Free Men unfurls shortly after our great nation won its independence and tells the story of an escaped slave, a white simpleton, and an American Indian seeking allies who stumble upon one another while on their individual paths to freedom. Upon meeting on their separate roads to redemption, this unlikely trio forges an instantaneous bond that transcends each of their individual prejudices and throws them into a situation where they are faced with a difficult decision. When an opportunity to seize an unimaginable amount of wealth from men who are certainly affluent enough presents itself, these men struggle to ascertain whether the ends justify the means. Is it a sin for these wronged individuals to seize what has long been denied to them or do they tread the dark path toward both their damnation and their salvation?
The three protagonists’ journey is stalked from its inauguration by a bloodhound of a Frenchman with a sense of justice as well as an encompassing need to understand the motivations of these three disparate men. His need to bring a group of wrongdoers to justice becomes increasingly sidetracked by his fascination with his prey and his need to scrutinize the spirit of freedom these men present.
This novel was an unexpected treat that, as I unwrapped it, presented layer after layer of depth and complexity. From the point of view of either the predator or the prey, this story vividly portrays the grey areas of life and makes the reader ponder what it truly means to be free.
~Ryan, Circulation Department