Free Men


From the author of the highly acclaimed The Story of Land and Sea comes a captivating novel, set in the late eighteenth-century American South, that follows a singular group of companions—an escaped slave, a white orphan, and a Creek Indian—who are being tracked down for murder.

In the few days they spend together, the makeshift trio commits a shocking murder that soon has the forces of the law bearing down upon them. Sent to pick up their trail, a probing French tracker named Le Clerc must decide which has a greater claim: swift justice, or his own curiosity about how three such disparate, desperate men could act in unison.

Katy Simpson Smith skillfully brings into focus men whose lives are both catastrophic and full of hope—and illuminates the lives of the women they left behind. Far from being anomalies, Cat, Bob, and Istillicha are the beating heart of the new America that Le Clerc struggles to comprehend. In these territories caught between European, American, and Native nations, a wilderness exists where four men grapple with the importance of family, the stain of guilt, and the competing forces of power, love, race, and freedom—questions that continue to haunt us today.

“Katy Simpson Smith’s FREE MEN channels a world radically different and utterly similar to our own, and renders viscerally that quintessential American impulse to get yourself a new life. And in so doing, it reminds us of the spectacular ways in which we as a society and as individuals have always continually failed one another, even as it also evokes those non-negligible instances of valor—when it comes to giving, and sharing—of which we’re capable, as well.”

— Jim Shepard

“I was immediately seduced by the quality of the prose, its meditative tone and haunting imagery—a poet’s imagery, thrilling in its uncanny detail—and richness. This is a deep, pondered world, a pleasure to experience and behold.”

— Amanda Coplin

“Katy Smith made an auspicious entrance with THE STORY OF LAND AND SEA. Now, in FREE MEN, she confirms her status as a truly distinctive and lyrical voice and in my judgment, the most sophisticated historical novelist of her generation.”

— Joseph J. Ellis

“Do not be alarmed. Katy Simpson Smith’s FREE MEN will have you gasping for breath as you flip the final page, possibly as you flip the final hundred pages. This is literature at its finest: a novel about another time that—rather than alienate—instead clarifies and brings into view our own time. Among other things—freedom, race, the curiosity inherent to mankind—this is a story about flawed but earnest men and the flawed but earnest women left behind.”

— Hannah Pittard