Golden Age by Jane Smiley
Knopf Doubleday: 10/20/15
eBook review copy, 464 pages
Spanning five generations of the Langdon family and 100 years, Golden Age by Jane Smiley is the final book in the trilogy that began with Some Luck and Early Warning.
Golden Age opens in 1987 and goes into the future, 2019 for the 100
years. The previous two books in the trilogy covered 1920-1952 and
1953-1986. It must be made clear to anyone wanting to read this final
book in the series that you really have to read the previous two novels
first. What that means, in all honesty, is that you must be willing to
invest a large chunk of reading time to meeting and following Smiley's
Iowa family from start to (rather bleak) ending. You cannot just jump
into this series at the end.
There is a family tree at the beginning of each book that you will want
to bookmark and refer to in this final volume until you get all the
characters firmly set in your mind. Smiley does an excellent job with
character development, so you will know who is who, but there are many
characters so until you know them (or have reacquainted yourself with
them) the family tree can be quite helpful.
All of the books follow the Langdons year by year. Each chapter is a
new year. Smiley pulls in historical figures and events from the year.
The Langdons must now wrestle with new economic, social, and political
experiences, as well as personal struggles. The extended Langdon family
is now spread across the country, from the family homestead in Iowa to
California. They are in Washington D.C., New York City, and Chicago. The
pursuits, interests, and occupations of the Langdon clan are
far-reaching and cover a wide variety. Not all of the Langdons are
portrayed in a positive light as protagonists. She has her antagonists.
This isn't necessarily bad because her families feel real. They have
struggles and rivalries. The relationships are full of disagreements and
repressed emotions. As with any group of people, related or not, they
all have their own beliefs and opinions and differing views and values
can always instigate conflict.
Smiley's political views are clearly a part of this final installment,
so if you have strong conservative opinions or no firm convictions
concerning Monsanto's genetically altered seeds, then this novel might
feel too political for you. You will know what family members espouse
beliefs and causes that with which she agrees. The characters whose
beliefs she disagrees with are villains or portrayed as incompetent.
I'm going to highly recommend the series as a whole. The biggest
drawback to the trilogy is the sheer length of it and the necessity to
start at the beginning in order to follow all three novels.
Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy
of Knopf Doubleday for review