Saturday, October 4, 2014

Some Luck

Some Luck by Jane Smiley
Knopf Doubleday: 10/7/2014
hardcover, 416 pages

ISBN-13: 9780307700315
From the winner of the Pulitzer Prize: a powerful, engrossing new novel—the life and times of a remarkable family over three transformative decades in America. 
On their farm in Denby, Iowa, Rosanna and Walter Langdon abide by time-honored values that they pass on to their five wildly different children: from Frank, the handsome, willful first born, and Joe, whose love of animals and the land sustains him, to Claire, who earns a special place in her father’s heart.
Each chapter in Some Luck covers a single year, beginning in 1920, as American soldiers like Walter return home from World War I, and going up through the early 1950s, with the country on the cusp of enormous social and economic change. As the Langdons branch out from Iowa to both coasts of America, the personal and the historical merge seamlessly: one moment electricity is just beginning to power the farm, and the next a son is volunteering to fight the Nazis; later still, a girl you’d seen growing up now has a little girl of her own, and you discover that your laughter and your admiration for all these lives are mixing with tears.   
Some Luck delivers on everything we look for in a work of fiction. Taking us through cycles of births and deaths, passions and betrayals, among characters we come to know inside and out, it is a tour de force that stands wholly on its own. But it is also the first part of a dazzling epic trilogy—a literary adventure that will span a century in America: an astonishing feat of storytelling by a beloved writer at the height of her powers.

My Thoughts:

Some Luck by Jane Smiley is a very highly recommended novel that follows three decades, from 1920 to 1953, of the Langdon family of Denby Iowa. This is the first book in a planned family saga trilogy that will span 100 years. Some Luck is currently longlisted for the 2014 National Book Award for Fiction, and it is clear why after you read this incredible novel. 

Opening in 1920 with Walter Langdon surveying his new farm fields, we meet his wife Rosanna and follow along the years as their family grows. Each chapter encompasses a single year, so we  are following the Langdon family through the historical events that happened during each of those years - depression, death, drought, wars, innovations, the red scare. The Langdons always know that disaster is always one bad crop or step away, and they can never rely on luck. For many people there just might be a farm family somewhere in your background, with subsequent generations perhaps far removed from it, but, nevertheless, the roots are still there.

Walter and Rosanna have five surviving children. As each child grows up and goes their own way we follow them through childhood into adulthood, and to places beyond Iowa. Smiley is a phenomenally gifted writer and she captures the essence of her characters, making them each credible individuals, especially all the children. Right from birth, we can see how each child is different and then follow them as they mature and carry those traits with them.

This is the kind of historical novel that spans decades and the plot encompasses the changes that occurred during that time. Smiley carefully crafts her story, placing her characters in the time period, as they actively are living through it, rather than informing us about events happening during that time. It's a clever way to immerse us in the lives of these characters while placing them firmly into the time period in which they are living. I really enjoy novels that showcase a family and place them accurately in a historical context. After all, we all live through changes and disasters and rarely reflect on what we went through until later, after the fact, or we discuss various ideologies and our opinions with others, rather than lecture them on what is happening.

Since this is a part of a trilogy, with the other two parts to be published in the spring and fall of 2015, the book ends rather abruptly, but at as good a stopping point as any.  I'm looking forward to reading the rest of the Langdon's story.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of
Knopf Doubleday for review purposes.

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