Friday, October 16, 2015

Golden Age

Golden Age by Jane Smiley
Knopf Doubleday: 10/20/15
eBook review copy, 464 pages
ISBN-13: 9780307700346

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 purposes.

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