Monday, January 12, 2015

Some Luck by Jane Smiley

Some Luck is the first in Jane Smiley's family saga trilogy that is to span 100 years by the time it is complete. The chapters progress year by year, starting with 1920. Walter Langdon has returned to a farm in Iowa after fighting in World War 1. He and his 20-year-old wife Rosanna have just had their first child when Some Luck opens.

By 1953, the closing chapter, the Langdons have had several more children, most of them grown and with families of their own. Family members have spread out across the USA, from Chicago to San Francisco to New York City. Their individual lives play out against the larger backdrop of historical events--the Great Depression, World War 2, McCarthyism--and of technological developments like automobiles, tractors, chemical fertilizers and electricity.

In the hands of a skillful writer like Smiley, ordinary people are fascinating. As Rosanna's mother says about the children: "Each one is his or her own little universe."

I felt totally absorbed by the Langdon family as I listened to the audiobook [Random House: 15 hr] read by Lorelei King. King has a certain warmth and affinity for the characters, making the story even more enjoyable. She even sings softly a capella when called for in the text. (A couple of years ago, I enjoyed another audiobook with a varied cast, narrated by King: Moon Called.)

In 2006, Smiley received the PEN USA Lifetime Achievement Award for Literature. Her work just keeps getting better. I look forward to the next two books in the Langdon family trilogy.

Readalikes: The Son (Philipp Meyer); Ethel and Ernest (Raymond Briggs); The Thorn Birds (Colleen McCullough).

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