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Publisher's Summary

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

Critic Reviews

"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)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

Overall

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  • Overall
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  • Story

Takes Times To Develop But Is Really Worth The Effort

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.

35 of 39 people found this review helpful

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generations of diapers

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.

6 of 7 people found this review helpful

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Huh?

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.

9 of 11 people found this review helpful

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Painfully slow, but some interesting characters

This book wasn’t for you, but who do you think might enjoy it more?

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.

Has Some Luck turned you off from other books in this genre?

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!

What didn’t you like about Lorelei King’s performance?

No animation in her voice. Very heavy handed narration.

You didn’t love this book... but did it have any redeeming qualities?

I did enjoy a peek into domestic life in the 20s and 30s.

Any additional comments?

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.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Big Disappointment!

Would you try another book from Jane Smiley and/or Lorelei King?

I loved "A Thousand Acres" and expected this to be as compelling. I was surprised at the lack of depth in the characters. They struck me as Paper Dolls, which I now see another reviewer mentioned. Very shallow, little development, boring people except for one who remains mysterious and out of reach throughout. The story had no tension or plot -- nothing to draw me in. It all felt like the kind of background exposition that should be kept to a minimum. I gave Smiley the benefit of the doubt and listened to the whole story, but it was not worth my time. I would be very reluctant to try another Smiley book, given the countless groans I emitted while listening. It felt like reading an amateurish attempt at a family history.

Has Some Luck turned you off from other books in this genre?

Not at all. I'll just be a lot more selective.

What didn’t you like about Lorelei King’s performance?

It came across like a kindergarten teacher carefully reading a children's book. Very annoying. I would cautiously preview her work on any other book before purchasing it.

You didn’t love this book... but did it have any redeeming qualities?

The details of farm life in the 20s & 30s were illuminating.

Any additional comments?

I am left feeling very distrustful of the critics' reviews included in Audible. For anyone to have found this novel lush & grounded, or to report that after a few slow chapters they felt the velocity, intensity and wonder of this story, I am simply dumbfounded.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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slow start, but interesting history sweep

Would you consider the audio edition of Some Luck to be better than the print version?

I did not read the print version, so I cannot related the two, but generally I think audio books are better than print versions!

What did you like best about this story?

Well told story of middle America during the depression and WWII

Which character – as performed by Lorelei King – was your favorite?

No favorite. Most all of the characters were likable.

Any additional comments?

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!

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

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Random Storytelling At Its Best

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

Yes. The narrator does an excellent job capturing all the many personalities in the story.

What was one of the most memorable moments of Some Luck?

I liked Frank's storyline the best so his transition to college was a lot of fun to listen to.

What about Lorelei King’s performance did you like?

Her ability to differentiate between the many members of the family plus all the friends.

Any additional comments?

I am Jane Smiley fan ("Moo" is one of the funniest and best books ever in my humble opinion). And I went into this knowing her penchant for "random storytelling." It was a good thing. While I will admit it was slow going at first (the childrens' POVs were distracting to me) I really enjoyed watching (and listening) as the Langdon family grew up. It's a nice, relaxing listen and the narrator does all the characters justice. I am moving onto book 2!

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Some Luck - Somewhat enjoyable

Nothing happens except their lives. Farm life described in detail - almost daily but still an enjoyable book once you understand nothing is going to happen.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Slow road to nowhere

This book wasn’t for you, but who do you think might enjoy it more?

I honestly don't know; maybe someone who finds "pastoral" stories soothing.

What was most disappointing about Jane Smiley’s story?

The book started out from the perspective of a baby, and continued in this fashion way too long. Too much time was spent on uninteresting, descriptions from a child's point of view that did little to enhance the story. I wanted to gnaw off my arm. There was no genuine character development. At times the story seemed to pick up, but then fizzled again.

Would you listen to another book narrated by Lorelei King?

Possibly.

What character would you cut from Some Luck?

Possibly Henry--his story never really went anywhere.

Any additional comments?

I should have known that it would be difficult for any author to develop an interesting multi-generational story in a relatively short book. The only reason I kept listening was that I'd spent money on it. I'd like to warn others not to make the same mistake.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Ann
  • Dallas, TX, United States
  • 04-15-15

Listening to this book is like watching paint dry

What would have made Some Luck better?

Oh my goodness just get on with the story. I was afraid it would last 10 years. So slow paced I wanted to grab the book out of the narrator's hand and read faster!

Would you ever listen to anything by Jane Smiley again?

None of her subsequent books have ever been anywhere near as good as A Thousand Acres - maybe I should have just stopped after that one. Think I'll pass on the next one.

How could the performance have been better?

Read faster - read at warp speed. Nothing worth slowing down for at all.

What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?

Boring and my husband is from Iowa - it's not really that boring there.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful