Published by Knopf
Publication date: October 7th 2014
Some Luck is the first book in Jane Smiley’s The Last Hundred Years trilogy and in it she covers the lives of the Langdons. They are an Iowa farming family and it’s evident by the loving care with which she portrays them that Smiley is happy to return to her roots. In 1920 Walter Langdon is twenty-five and the proud owner of his own farm. He and his wife Rosanna live there with their infant son Frank. What begins with their story in Iowa expands to encompass events and places throughout America and the world. Smiley breaks the novel’s chapters into years and in doing so links the family chain from one generation to the next until 1953.
Rosanna and Walter go on to have four more children after Frank but he is the novel’s cornerstone and the other characters flit by and around him. It is his psychological make-up that gets the greatest attention from Smiley and we quickly learn that his intelligence is equaled by a ferocious will to to do what he wants.
Frank was patient. Nobody thought he was patient…But he had stores of patience they could not understand if there was something he really, really wanted to do.
This leads to his going to a high school in Chicago, being the first in the family to go to college, and then quitting halfway through to join the Army. While his choices puzzle his family they make perfect sense to him. In his own way, he is as unknowable and uncontrollable as the land—the other key character in Some Luck. For while people are critical to the novel, Smiley always returns to the land.
Some Luck moves with a stately grace that may feel slow or dispassionate to some readers but I found it reflective of the people and their land and appreciated its natural pace. Much of Smiley’s prose in Some Luck is about the smallest things—the paragraphs of Frank’s impressions of the world when only five months old are some of my favorite of the novel. It is this mindset that reinforces how small but concentrated life is on a farm and how well Smiley represents that life. There is no energy or time to be wasted in talking so Some Luck is a very thoughtful novel—literally. There are no deep, emotional conversations being had but there is no doubt about the depths being felt. The intimacy is in the actions—the joy of plentiful harvests, eating what you’ve grown, giving birth to and raising children, and the grief of the Depression, when farms were left behind because they had been lost. Smiley covers all these and more quietly but beautifully, leaving me looking forward to what happens next.
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