Some Luck – and – Early Warning by Jane Smiley
picked up a copy of a new Jane Smiley book Early Warning thinking the cover was appealing and remembering that some years ago we all read and enjoyed her many books. Discovering that Early Warning is the second in a series, I went back to the first Some Luck and found it so engrossing I disappeared for a couple of days, only surfacing to get a copy of Early Warning and disappear for a few more days. The third will be published in October so we don’t have long to wait.
Some Luck begins in 1920 – men return from the First World War, they marry, they re-produce and life goes on. We meet Walter and Rosanna Langdon on their farm in Iowa. We meet their first child, Frank, and see the world through his young eyes in an entirely fascinating chapter. Each chapter is a single year – a device that had me doubting at the beginning but it did not take long to become so engrossed by the life of this family I was eagerly reading to see what was to come.
We follow the Langdon’s through the years of change in the 1920’s, the financial crash hardly affecting those with so little, through the depression that had such a huge impact on farmers, though this little family on a small farm was better off than many with more to lose.
Then comes the Second World War, with the children of those who fought 20 years earlier just exactly the right age to go to war this time. Then, the return of those who survived and the years that followed - progress and affluence for some. Then the Cold War – the fear of nuclear annihilation. Then Vietnam. In Canada we sometimes forget how it was for the Americans – we listened to the nightly news and the body count - and the images in vivid black and white – but we were not losing yet another generation of young men to a foreign war as they were.
Then the hippy dippy days of the 1960s and 70s as the Langdon family grows. The couple we met in 1920, a newly married couple are now elderly – they have seem the change from horse and buggy to huge American cars, space travel – telephones – technology! Their grandchildren are now adults, some struggling to make their way in a world so very different that of Walter and Rosanna.
What I did not expect was Jane Smiley’s fierce insight into so many lives – her books becoming a sort of everyman for a century of American life – and so fabulously interesting.
I am looking forward to reading the conclusion of the trilogy Golden Age will take us from 1987 to the present, but I will be very sorry to close the cover on the Langdon family when I reach the end.