Pulitzer Prize winning author, Jane Smiley, gifts us with some remarkable writing in her new book, Some Luck, which is the first installment in a trilogy. Like her other pieces of beautifully written fiction and non-fiction, Some Luck provides us with a great story and seemingly effortless prose. This first book of the trilogy introduces us to Walter and Rosanna Langdon and their five children. The first chapter begins in 1920 with the birth of their first son, Frank, and each chapter represents another year in their lives with chapter thirty three closing volume one in 1953. The Langdons live in Denby, Iowa on a farm where they experience all the hardships of the Dustbowl, the Great Depression, World War II, plus the beginning of the Cold War. The era is tumultuous and their lives are touched with all the love, joy, triumphs, and tragedies of every human family.
Jane Smiley’s gift is that she makes these people in their everyday lives fascinating and her skill as an author also makes us care about each character in this large extended family deeply. We see how their humble beginnings on an Iowa farm imprint each of their personalities quite differently. None are quite predictable; none are what their parents and grandparents foresaw when each child was born. Some travel extensively and some, none at all. Some have boundless ambition and others very little; but they are forever marked as Walter and Rosanna’s children in the way they relate to each other and the world. In a lot of ways this is an old fashioned family saga, but with Smiley’s golden way with words it is a new experience for us all.
I predict more awards for her with this first book, and the only down side that I see in Some Luck being part of a trilogy is that we now have to wait for parts two and three. If you have followed Ms. Smiley’s career, the name of Denby, Iowa rings familiar. It was also the setting of her Pulitzer Prize winning novel A Thousand Acres.
This novel was also the name of a movie that was released into theaters in September, 1997. The film had a sterling cast made up of Michelle Pfeiffer, Jessica Lange, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jason Robards, Colin Firth, Keith Carradine, Kevin Anderson, and Pat Hingle among others.
If Ms. Smiley’s current three books are translated into a movie, I hope that they are adapted by an entity like HBO for television that can give a full viewing to the entire story and its characters. It will need to be a mini-series, and I will be watching. I can guarantee you that.
(Correction: February 9, 2015 – In this review of Ms. Smiley’s recent book, I mentioned that her Pulitzer Prize winning novel A Thousand Acres had been made into a television movie. That is incorrect. A Thousand Acres, I have learned since was released into theaters in September 1997. My apologies to all concerned. – Dianne Patterson)
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