Friday, September 25, 2015

'Some Luck' by Jane Smiley

25 September 2015

The American author Jane Smiley is still best known for her 1991 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel 'A Thousand Acres', which transplanted the story of 'King Lear' to an American mid-west farming community. I've just finished reading 'Some Luck' (as an unabridged audio book, narrated by Lorelei King), the first in a planned trilogy of novels by Jane Smiley called 'The Last Hundred Years'. 'Some Luck' is a family saga, set on a farm in Iowa, which begins in 1920 and follows the family of Walter and Rosanna Langdon year by year (with a chapter for each year) through to 1953. It's wonderfully crafted and beautifully written. By avoiding the leaps in time common to many family sagas, the incremental growth of the Langdon family is a realistic and recognisable account of childhood. We get to know the Langdon children, their strengths, interests and characteristics, in detail as they develop, making the reader feel very close to the characters. The book also provides a clever sense of opening out – as the family grows and new branches appear, there are naturally more parts to the story for the narrative to jump between. Also the family spreads geographically – from the farm, which at first seems like their whole world, to their local town, to Chicago, Washington then New York, then to Europe and a more global outlook. This widening of view also reflects the period, as transport and communications develop through the first half of the twentieth century. We see the transition on the farm from horses to tractors, then the increasing affordability of cars and air travel. The remaining books in Jane Smiley's trilogy will take us through the rest of the twentieth century. I'm really looking forward to following the Langdons' progress. This is a 'Heimat' for the American mid-west – highly recommended.



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