Monday, August 24, 2015
Some Luck by Jane Smiley
Published October 2014 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Source: purchased this one for my Nook
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.
This word came up the other night when my book club was talking about this book, "minutiae." Well, that pretty much sums it up. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing. Just a warning.
This is mostly a very quiet book, full of the details that make up a life and reveal it in depth. Which is unusual to find in a book that spans thirty years. If you're a person that gives up on a book after 50 pages, there's the very real chance that this one isn't for you. It's all about connecting with the Langdon family and given that a good chunk of the first part of the book is told from the point of view of infants with not much happening, it's hard to get into.
In fact, if I hadn't been committed to reading it for book club, I'm not sure I would have stuck with it. In the end, I'm not sure how much I liked it. Smiley does do a wonderful job of taking her readers deeply into life on a Midwest farm in the first half of the last century. Seriously, I'm not sure what made women marry farmers then. Except that, of course, all of their family lived on farms nearby, as did both Rosanna's and Walter's families and that made for an interesting three-generation dynamic.
Two things that threw me: from the beginning, it seemed that the story was about the entire Langdon family and yet, very often, it felt like it was a book about Frank and the people around him. Which brought me to the second issue - when Frank went off to World War II, we went with him to Africa and then Italy where he served as a sniper. It seemed to me it would have been more in keeping with the rest of the book to have stayed with the family, to have seen how the war affected those left at home.
This is the first book of a planned trilogy. I'm not sure where Smiley will be going with the next book, if she'll be following Frank or one of his siblings or picking up with one of the other characters. I don't very much, though, that I'll read it even though I'd give this one a three star rating assuming I rated books here.