The Homesman, Paperback
4.5 out of 5 (5 ratings)

Description

The Homesman opens in the 1850s, when early pioneers are doing anything they can to survive dreadful conditions.

Women especially struggle with broken hearts and minds as they face bitter hardships: One nineteen-year-old mother loses her three children to diphtheria in three days; another woman left alone for two nights is forced to shoot wolves to protect herself.

The situation calls for a "homesman"-a person charged with taking these women, driven mad by the conditions of rural life, to asylums in the East.

Not exactly a job people are lining up for, it falls to Mary Bee Cuddy, an ex-teacher and spinster, who is indomitable, resourceful, and "plain as an old tin pail." Brave as she is, Mary Bee knows she can't make it alone, so she takes along her only available companion: the lowlife and untrustworthy George Briggs.

Mary Bee and George know it won't be easy, but their endurance is truly tested as they fight the tide of colonization, Indian attacks, ice storms, loneliness, and the unceasing aggravation of a disparate group of mad women.

This is the tale of their journey and a tribute to the men and women who homesteaded the frontier, whether they survived or not.

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Showing 1 - 5 of 5 reviews.

Review by
5

Glendon Swarthout is best known for his western classic “The Shootist,” a novel that eventually became actor John Wayne’s last film. But now that Swarthout’s equally powerful western, “The Homesman,” is being filmed (and directed by Tommy Lee Jones), this 1988 novel is being given new life – thankfully so, because I missed it the first time around.“The Homesman” explores an aspect of American western migratory history that is seldom considered: what happened to those 1850s settlers who suffered mental breakdowns under the extreme conditions common to their new environment and lifestyle. This was especially the case for those women, already isolated from everything and everyone they left behind, who lost one or more children to disease or accident. Who would care for them if they could not care for themselves?The research Swarthout conducted in Nebraska gave him the answers he sought. Mentally ill men are likely to have died of exposure, disease, or death at the hands of fellow settlers who felt threatened by their presence. Women suffering mental illness, on the other hand, were not treated so harshly. It was more likely that husbands made arrangements to have their wives transported back east to family or institutions that could care for them for the rest of their lives. The tragedy of four of these women having to be removed from their families and carried back across the Missouri River for care serves as the premise of “The Homesman” (“homesman” being the term for the man chosen to escort the women eastward). In the case of these particular women, however, when no man, including their own husbands, is willing to make that dangerous trek, the job falls to a woman volunteer, one Mary Bee Cuddy. The determined Mary Bee is perhaps the only woman who would even have had a small chance to get the four women home safely on her own. But, despite the fact that the four husbands are perfectly content to see their wives set out without a male escort, Mary Bee knows that she needs help if she and the women are to survive the trip – and she finds that help in the person of a claim jumper she coerces into accompanying her.When first published in 1988, “The Homesman” won both major awards annually given to the best western novels of the year: the Western Heritage Wrangler Award and the Spur Award granted by the Western Writers of America. It is easy to see why.

Review by
5

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.

Review by
5

Both men and women pioneered the west...guts and very little glory for the majority of them. So what happened when the unbearable loneliness, extreme weather conditions and lack of common essentials became too much to handle? Men took off for the mountains or became drunkards but what of the women? Their mental instability was too much to be handled locally. That's where the homesman comes into play...a male chosen to carry the females east to a location where they could be cared for till they were sent back to their orignal family homes. In THIS book a woman offered herself to do the job no one wanted, Mary Bee Cuddy. Along the way she saves the life of aclaim jumper and in exchange he accompanies the wagon load back East. Wow. In the middle, the story takes a turn and threw me for a loop- no pun intended. Do they make it? Well worth the read to find out!

Review by
4

This was a refreshing and original take on the old west genre which examines a little known reality of the settlement of the west. Namely the experience of the women who either came with their families or on their own. Sometimes the women set to their tasks and lot in life successfully but other times the sheer isolation, poverty, and terrible losses they faced could completely overwhelm these brave women. What happened to these broken women is the basis of this book. The answer is a wagon train run by a homesman to bring these women back to civilization and their families. The story is heart breaking and sad. Anyone who is interested in the settlement of the west and the role that women played should definitely read this book.

Review by
4

This was a refreshing and original take on the old west genre which examines a little known reality of the settlement of the west. Namely the experience of the women who either came with their families or on their own. Sometimes the women set to their tasks and lot in life successfully but other times the sheer isolation, poverty, and terrible losses they faced could completely overwhelm these brave women. What happened to these broken women is the basis of this book. The answer is a wagon train run by a homesman to bring these women back to civilization and their families. The story is heart breaking and sad. Anyone who is interested in the settlement of the west and the role that women played should definitely read this book.

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