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Some Luckby Jane Smiley
Synopses & Reviews
Longlisted for the 2014 National Book Award
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.
"In the first volume of a planned trilogy, Smiley returns to the Iowa of her Pulitzer Prize — winning A Thousand Acres, but in a very different vein. The warring sisters and abusive father of that book have given way to the Langdons, a loving family whose members, like most people, are exceptional only in their human particularities. The story covers the 1920s through the early '50s, years during which the family farm survives the Depression and drought, and the five Langdon children grow up and have to decide whether to stay or leave. Smiley is particularly good at depicting the world from the viewpoint of young children — all five of the Langdons are distinct individuals from their earliest days. The standout is oldest son Frank, born stubborn and with an eye for opportunity, but as Smiley shifts her attention from one character to another, they all come to feel like real and relatable people. The saga of an Iowa farm family might not seem like an exciting premise, but Smiley makes it just that, conjuring a world — time, place, people — and an engaging story that makes readers eager to know what happens next. Smiley plans to extend the tale of the Langdon family well into the 21st century; she's off to a very strong start. (Oct.) " Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
“Smiley is prolific [and] seemingly writes the way her idol Dickens did — as easily as if it were breathing....She made up her mind at an early age that she was going to master not just one genre, but all of them. Her new book is the first volume of a trilogy — one of the few forms left for her to tackle....Some Luck starts in 1920 and follows the fortunes of a Midwestern farming family; each chapter covers a single year. What most surprised her, she said, was the way that, more than in her other books, the characters took on lives of their own. ‘I got the feeling that I got on a train and sat down, and all these people were talking. I was eavesdropping, and the train was just heading into the future.’” Charles McGrath, The New York Times
“Brilliant...Smiley is one of America’s most accomplished and wide-ranging novelists, [and] Some Luck finds her in her most tender mode....As the Langdons’ five children grow up and scatter from coast to coast, Some Luck demonstrates how events on an isolated, unsophisticated farm in the middle of the country represent and influence the larger story of America.” Dallas Morning News
“This sweeping, carefully plotted novel traces the history, from 1920 to the Cold War era, of a single Iowa farming family. Each chapter focuses on one year, setting the minor catastrophes and victories of the family’s life against a backdrop of historical change, particularly the Great Depression. As the children branch out from their tiny town, so, too, does the story, eventually encompassing several generations, cities, and cultural movements. Smiley, like one of her characters contemplating the guests at the Thanksgiving table, begins with an empty house and fills it ‘with twenty-three different worlds, each one of them rich and mysterious.’” The New Yorker
“A ravishing and defiantly old-fashioned novel set on the same Iowa soil Smiley tilled in her Pulitzer Prize-winning A Thousand Acres.... Reminiscent of the work of Willa Cather and Alice Munro, Some Luck chronicles one family’s triumphs and travails as they work to wrest a living from their farm. Opening in 1920, [it] tracks the fates of Walter and Rosanna Langdon and their children over three decades. Their union endures, roiled by doubt at times, yet rooted in a bone-deep connection. Some Luck ingeniously spirals outward from the farm and back again, capturing the arc of personal and historical change in forthright prose that unexpectedly takes flight.” O, The Oprah Magazine
“Sweeping....Smiley’s most commanding novel yet. She is a master storyteller — that rare ‘three-fer’: meticulous historian, intelligent humorist and seasoned literary novelist.” Los Angeles Times
“Engaging, bold...Smiley delivers a straightforward, old-fashioned tale of rural family life in changing times, depicting isolated farm life with precision....It is especially satisfying to hear a powerful writer narrate men’s and women’s lives lovingly and with equal attention. Subtle, wry and moving.” The Washington Post
“Convincing....A young couple, Walter and Rosanna Langdon, are just setting out on their own [in] 1920. Eventually they will have five children; Smiley gives each of them a turn in the spotlight, filling in the details of their lives and drawing the reader into a story meant to last a long time....Smiley has been compared to some of the great writers of the 19th century, [and] in that tradition, she gives her trilogy the sweep of history. But what interests her most is the way historic events play out in the lives of one family whose roots are deeply embedded in the middle of America.” Lynn Neary, NPR Weekend Sunday Edition
“Marvelous, a tour de force....Wherever Smiley goes in Some Luck, most readers will willingly follow. Then wait, with bated breath, for her next steps.” BookPage
“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....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.” Booklist (starred review)
“Audaciously delicious....Every character here steals our heart. Smiley has turned her considerable talents to the story of an Iowa farm and the people who inhabit it. The suspense is found in the impeccably drawn scenes and in the myriad ways in which Smiley narrows and opens her camera’s lens. Her language has the intimacy of a first-person telling; her stance is in-the-moment. Always at the narrative hearth stand Walter and Rosanna and that Iowa farm, a character in its own right, a landscape remembered by those who flee to Chicago, Italy, San Francisco, Washington D.C. and New York....We read these lives, and we find our own.” Chicago Tribune
From the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of A Thousand Acres: a heartwarming, deeply engaging new novel-the life and times of an American farm family over three transformative decades-certain to become an instant classic.
On their farm in Denby, Iowa, Rosanna and Walter Langdon abide by time-honored values that they pass on to their five wildly different yet equally remarkable children: Frank, the brilliant, stubborn first-born; Joe, whose love of animals makes him the natural heir to his family's land; Lillian, an angelic child who enters a fairy-tale marriage with a man only she will fully know; Henry, the bookworm who's not afraid to be different; and Claire, who earns the highest place in her father's heart. Moving from post-World War I America through the early 1950s, Some Luck gives us an intimate look at this family's triumphs and tragedies, zooming in on the realities of farm life, while casting-as the children grow up and scatter to New York, California, and everywhere in between-a panoramic eye on the monumental changes that marked the first half of the twentieth century. Rich with humor and wisdom, twists and surprises, Some Luck takes us through deeply emotional cycles of births and deaths, passions, and betrayals, displaying Smiley's dazzling virtuosity, compassion, and understanding of human nature and the nature of history, never discounting the role of fate and chance. This potent conjuring of many lives across generations is a stunning tour de force.
About the Author
Jane Smiley is the author of numerous novels, including A Thousand Acres, which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize, as well as five works of nonfiction and a series of books for young adults. In 2001 she was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and in 2006 she received the PEN USA Lifetime Achievement Award for Literature. She lives in Northern California.
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