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.
©2014 Jane Smiley (P)2014 Random House Audio
"The expansive American epic is Smiley’s métier, and she’s in top form with this multigenerational story of an Iowa farming family - sturdy sons, passionate daughters, a tough but tender existence - across the first half of the 20th century." (Time)
"Pulitzer Prize-winning Smiley moves from the 1920s to the 1950s as she unfolds the life of Iowa farmers Rosanna and Walter Langdon and their five children. As the children grow up and sometimes move away, we get a wide-angle view of mid-century America. Told in beautiful, you-are-there language, the narrative lets ordinary events accumulate to give us a significant feel of life at the time, with the importance and dangers of farming particularly well portrayed. In the end, though, this is the story of parents and children, of hope and disappointment... Highly recommended; a lush and grounded reading experience." (Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal)
"Tremendous... Smiley is a seductive writer in perfect command of every element of language. She was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for A Thousand Acres, a novel about a farming family in Iowa, and she returns to that fertile ground to tell the stories of the Langdons, a clan deeply in accord with the land... As barbed in her wit as ever, Smiley is also munificently tender. The Langdons endure the Depression, Walter agonizes over giving up his horses for a tractor, and Joe tries the new synthetic fertilizers. Then, as Frank serves in WWII and, covertly, the Cold War, the novel’s velocity, intensity, and wonder redouble. This [is a] saga of the vicissitudes of luck, and our futile efforts to control it. Smiley’s grand, assured, quietly heroic, and affecting novel is a supremely nuanced portrait of a family spanning three pivotal American decades. It will be on the top of countless to-read lists." (Donna Seaman, Booklist)
I loved Jane Smiley's A Thousand Acres and had very high hopes that this family saga set in Iowa would be something along that line. Some Luck is a different book. It takes patience. The beauty of this first entry in a planned trilogy is slow to evolve. I was almost half way through the listen before the characters had captured me. Before I really cared about any of them. I almost gave up-- but I am really glad I kept listening.
The writing was spare and at first almost one dimensional. Smiley had the story drop in on the family and witness slices of life sequentially as the years progressed. To me these paper doll characters of the first chapters grew into whole, living, breathing and complex people gradually with each year and each new chapter.
This isn't a story that spoon feeds the listener. It is instead a book that the reader needs to work at and ponder. Subtle connections appear in a web like fashion and these webs connect the seemingly disconnected events into an amazing whole. Random flashes of insight flare like tiny sparks. Not the fireworks of A Thousand Acres--but beautiful all the same.
This book is a meditation on family, farming, hard work, individuality and traditions. Keep in mind that luck comes in many forms--good and bad. It also takes time to see which is which as life plays out. I loved the story and look forward to book two whenever it appears. Recommended if you are willing to take the time and let the story unfold. A wonderful listen.
Jane Smiley's many big, meaty novels each have a very definite topic: Vikings, farming, horses, real estate, sex, campus life. Here, the topic is motherhood. If you're a recent mom or grandmother and very interested in maternal talk, you might like it. For a reader with different orientations, it's frustrating. Every time something interesting gets started -- a son becomes a sniper in the WWII army, a daughter marries a Chicago Communist -- more babies plop into the plot and you get booted back to the nursery for many, many repetitive pages. Well, one might answer, why shouldn't moms have their say? OK, no beef about that. But I see this as a special-interest novel. Perhaps the two coming volumes of Smiley's Iowan epic will be less sluggish.
English major. Love to read
I have liked Jane Smiley in the past - A Thousand Acres was one of my all time favorites. This story is SO slow, so cumbersome and so full of unnecessary detail that I want to scream from the sidelines - "Jane, get on with it!" The premise that she would think her characterization of a child's view of the world would sustain us for a very long time was, in my mind, not a good calculation. I didn't even want to finish this. That doesn't happen very often with me.
Better reader, better written.
Pick up the pace! Way too much detail. And, who wants to be in baby state of mind, anyway.
I think she tried, just too boring.
If only I cared-
I couldn't finish it, and thats unusual for me. Don't buy it, unless you want to be bored to tears.I 've read other Jane Smiley books and liked them. This just didn't cut it-
Lorelei King had a tendency here really to inhabit the children she was voicing. This takes far too long to develop characters who feel as if they have history and substance in any case, and that move exacerbated the novel's flaws.
I like to think of narrative as a technology, or a series of technologies. Part of what makes something like The Iliad so compelling is that, in addition to the power (and strangeness) of the story, we get it in so formal and archaic a way. Something like that is true as we move through the early novels, whether it’s Sterne (whose sometimes brilliant ‘technologies’ of inverted chronology get left behind for more than a century) or Scott and Austen, who set much of the pattern that others will follow. Then we start to get psychological novels, Realistic ones, and Naturalistic ones, before we move into stream-of-consciousness and other Modern technologies.
Anyway, that unintelligible prologue aside, what strikes me about Some Luck is that it’s a novel written in a now long-discarded technology. The gimmick here is that each chapter of the novel tells a different year in the life of a large (and ever-growing) family from Iowa. They grow through the different economic times, waxing and waning in fortune along with the country at large.
It’s a hugely ambitious project, an attempt to tell more or less the history of the last century from a distinct what-became-of-the-farm-family perspective. I admire that ambition, and – after a long while – come to enjoy some of what it relates. Smiley is a strong historical fiction writer, and she weaves in all sorts of arcane information, whether the nature of commodity prices in the middle 1930s or the advances in the manufacture of gun powder on both sides of the Atlantic in the 1940s.
Such ambition is hard-wired into this narrative technology, though, and we know this because an entire generation of writers attempted experiments in it. John Dos Passos was doing something that I find more successful and compelling (read Manhattan Transfer if you aren’t familiar with it) but a host of people in his wake wrote more mainstream, less experimental work. I think in particular of James Farrell, Meyer Levin, and the later Theodore Dreiser, but I’m sure there were others in what I think of as a kind of “Soviet Realism” school of American literature.
One consequence of the form is that we never quite get central characters. The “hero” instead is “the people” in one form or another. It’s an interesting effect, but I find it limited and, in the end, fairly spent. Smiley has some good anecdotes here, and she has the outlines of characters who might be interesting if they were developed, but she never dwells on anyone or anything long enough for it to take on the substance I look for in literature. This is a theory of quantity over quality, and the result is a kind of layering; the novel works by accretion, by adding new characters all the time and by relying on the course of history to move action forward.
By the end, there are elements to admire, but I don’t see how this could ever have been taken seriously for the National Book Award. I’d have abandoned it after 50 pages (and likely would have if I weren’t listening to it as an audiobook) except for the fact that I know Smiley to be one of our serious writers and because it was so tedious in the early going that I figured I had to be missing something of her project.
What I was missing, I think, is precisely this idea of her experimenting with narrative technology. But I say as well that it’s been done before – just as well, if not better, in the 1920s and 1930s – and I’m much more interested in seeing how other people have moved forward with the narrative technological potential that Dos Passos showed: with the decentered but deeply drawn characters of some of our best contemporary novelists like Colum McCann, Jennifer Egan, Eleanor Catton, and Richard Flanagan. Those writers are doing some of the best work I know, exploring the way deeply developed characters comprise larger communities of people, become collective heroes in complicated contexts; this, instead, feels like nostalgia, like a kind of dead end.
Some of the sequences here are solid – and there’s something to be said for the way the entire apparatus keeps moving forward. I like a lot of the farm-centered narrative, and I like the World War II sequences, but the Cold War subplot seems amateurish at best, and there are long stretches interrupting some of the experiences of characters we were made to care about earlier. In the end, I’m afraid, this seems more notable for its effort than for either its craft or its insight.
You might like this if you are interested in the smallest details of life on a farm in the 20s and 30s, or if you are interested in the everyday occurrences in the life of a family.
I won't be listening to any more of the books in this series. I just don't care enough about the characters or what happens to them. There are also too many to keep track of!
No animation in her voice. Very heavy handed narration.
I did enjoy a peek into domestic life in the 20s and 30s.
If you are looking for a book in which something exciting is happening, or a story that keeps you excited to hear what happens next, skip this one for sure. This is a very detailed portrait of a family, in all its mundanity and day to day happenings.
This book did nothing for me. So much so that I quit listening about half way through. And that's a big deal for me as I am rather obsessive compulsive about finishing books. I thought the storyline was really thin, I didn't like the way it was structured, I didn't particularly like the characters. And the way it was read just didn't appeal to me.
adult fantasy lover
the pace is old fashioned - needs to pick up and dance
nice voice - sure would give something else a try
I did not read the print version, so I cannot related the two, but generally I think audio books are better than print versions!
Well told story of middle America during the depression and WWII
No favorite. Most all of the characters were likable.
This story started out very slow - I felt like I was listening to a children's book! Having read other Jane Smiley books, I held on and am glad I did. I'm happy to hear this is a trilogy and am looking forward to the next installment!
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