Author(s): Jane Smiley
The first novel in a dazzling new epic trilogy from the winner of the Pulitzer Prize; a literary adventure that will span a century in America. 1920. After his return from the battlefields in France, Walter Langdon and his wife Rosanna begin their life together on a remote farm in Iowa. As time passes, their little family will grow: from Frank, the handsome, willful first-born, to Joe, whose love of animals and the land sustains him; from Lillian, beloved by her mother, to Henry who craves only the world of his books; and Claire, the surprise baby, who earns a special place in her father's heart. As Walter and Rosanna struggle to keep their family through good years and hard years - to years more desperate than they ever could have imagined, the world around their little farm will turn, and life for their children will be unrecognizable from what came before. Some will fall in love, some will have families of their own, some will go to war and some will not survive. All will mark history in their own way. Tender, compelling and moving from the 1920s to the 1950s, told in multiple voices as rich as the Iowan soil, Some Luck is an astonishing feat of storytelling by a prize-winning author writing at the height of her powers.
The first instalment in the Pulitzer Prize-winner's masterpiece - a trilogy following one family over a hundred years
So here it is at last, the Great American Novel and, in retrospect, it seems obvious that the great Jane Smiley would be the one who wrote it. Some Luck is a Steinbeckian Little House on the Prairie: a rural tragedy, a domestic epic and an unassuming masterpiece. And, unlike most masterpieces, it's absorbing, witty, painful, pleasurable. You must read it. Charlotte Mendelson, Booker/Orange Prize nominated author of Almost English and When We Were Bad A masterpiece in the making ... intimate, miraculous-the auspicious beginning of an American saga every bit as ambitious as Updike's magnum opus, anchored in the satisfactions and challenges of life on a farm, but expanding to various American cities and beyond ... Frank is one of the most fascinating and complex characters in recent fiction. The way Smiley gets deep inside all the children's heads is a staggering literary feat in which we see human character being assembled in something that feels like real time. An abundant harvest. USA Today Some Luck is set in the rural farming community of the Midwestern America state of Iowa, the world previously evoked by Jane Smiley so successfully in her 1991 Pulitzer Prize-winning hit A Thousand Acres. It is, likewise, a family epic. The first in a planned trilogy, it progresses in a year per chapter through the life of Walter Langdon who returns home after serving in the First World War to establish his own farm and wed the blonde beauty Rosanna Vogel ... Though Iowa is remote, Smiley's narrative brings the family glancingly up against world events. The drought and economic hardship of the Great Depression conjured so harshly by John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath are, indeed, similarly harsh for the Langdons, although her warm empathy is very different from Steinback's passionate depiction of the plight of the poor. And as the children venture further afield, it is into the world of the atomic bomb and panic over the Russian Red Menace. But like the first purchase of a car or tractor and the arrival of electricity, the drought and Senator Joseph McCarthy act as signifiers of the passage of time where what really matters - and perhaps this is what really matters in life - is Rosanna and Walter rolling towards the centre of their saggy bed and still finding physical comfort in each other. Smiley writes of the unexpected tendernesses and unacknowledged disappointments of ordinary lives. The big themes in 20th century American history are threads in her text but it is the children Timmy and Debbie hiding fresh eggs in the sofa for Easter that is heart of this family story. The book often has the air of WH Auden's poem Musee des Beaux Arts where the disaster seems barely registered and the ship sails on ... Fans of big-cast family sagas with love and death and the world at large impinging only lightly - but tellingly - on events will love Some Luck. It is an easy and engrossing read with the cornfields, the snowstorms and the technological developments of the 20th century vividly evoked. Independent Try to pin Jane Smiley down at your peril: she is as likely to write a campus novel (Moo) as a 14th-century historical saga (The Greenlanders) or a foray into the world of breeders and racetracks (Horse Heaven). Smiley has shown no great fondness for the miniature canvas, or for two inches of ivory; no willingness to be confined to a particular historical period, or location, or way of writing, although the last could perhaps (albeit reductively) be described as realist storytelling. It is storytelling in expansive mode, and perhaps more in evidence than ever in Some Luck, which is the first of a projected trilogy called The Last Hundred Years - a title that we can take literally. In this opening volume, we follow the story of the Langdons, an Iowan farming family, from 1920 to 1953, with a chapter for each year, a period that takes us from the aftermath of the first world war via the Depression and the second world war to the era of the atomic bomb ... But Some Luck is not simply an observation of family life and the pressures it is naturally susceptible to; it is also a dissection of the idea of family, and of the truths its facade will shield from view. Guardian Longlisted for the 2014 National Book Award for Fiction, Some Luck is the first volume in a trilogy spanning 100 years; the next two are due in 2015. This volume traverses 33 years, four generations and three continents, with each chapter covering one year. Smiley's gifts as a storyteller are in full force from the first page, drawing us into the lives of the characters. The children especially, with their emerging personalities, are marvellously evoked. Smiley is author of 14 novels and five works of non-fiction. She won a Pulitzer for her novel, A Thousand Acres (1991), which was similarly concerned with a family of farmers in Iowa. Comparisons with Marilynne Robinson, whose own Pulitzer Prize-winning novels also centre on ordinary folk in Iowa, are inevitable but unhelpful. The backdrop may be the same, but the scope very different. From the novel's opening image of an owl swooping on a rabbit in the twilight, to the moment 20 years later when Walter falls through a rotten well-cover and his life hangs, literally, in the balance, Smiley is concerned with the question of what we make of the luck we are given. Financial Times In Jane Smiley's 14 previous adult novels, five nonfiction books and five young adult novels, she demonstrated the gifts that earned her a Pulitzer (and more recently, a spot on the National Book Award long list) and keeps her legions of fans jonesing for her next book. Smiley is a master storyteller, with a penchant for turning archetypal allegories into seemingly straightforward, contemporary narratives ... Jane Smiley is that rare three-fer: meticulous historian, intelligent humorist and seasoned literary novelist. But what makes a Smiley novel identifiably and deliciously hers alone is a unique brand of impassioned critical patriotism. Each of her best books is a detailed study of a particular facet, demographic and era of American life; in each she makes us see, in the kindest, gentlest way, that we're a lot more wonderful and a lot more screwed up - as a nation, as a people, as families, as individuals - than we think we are. Some Luck is true to form. Sweeping and detailed, the novel simultaneously miniaturizes and contextualizes three decades of American history by zooming in on one multi-generational Midwestern farm family. Starting small, Smiley pulls the camera way, way back, firmly positioning the Langdons center stage on the national and the international scene... In this, Smiley's most commanding novel yet, the medium matches the message. Births and deaths, triumphs and tragedies are rendered in a flat, matter-of-fact affect that mirrors the Midwestern landscape, language and temperament. Some Luck is the first in a trilogy to be called "The Last Hundred Years." Like Smiley herself, the project is ambitious and coyly clever. LA TIMES 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 Some Luck opens with a Langdon family tree. Even before we get to know Rosanna, Walter, and their children, the sprawling branches reveal the scope of this novel, which begins in 1920. Smiley, who devotes a chapter per year to the Langdons' Iowa farm life, depicts both disasters and heartbreaks in an unruffled tone. The good news? This is the first of a trilogy. The bad news? We have to wait for the next volume. ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY 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. WASHINGTON POST Moving and alert and alive ... A book about the ordinary nothings that, in the end, are everything. Smiley explores the fortunes of the Langdon family, living on their farm in the prairies, surrounded by wind-lashed locals of German and Scandinavian descent ... Steadily, the book accumulates, as Smiley relays the ordinary nothings that are everything in the end: how we embark, each one of us, clutching the hands of our parents, how they guide us onwards, and then we guide our own children, in the daylight of the fleeting present and yet with darkness on all sides, the shadowy past and future. To capture this experience - finitude, love, sorrow, the rise and fall of generations - is insanely difficult. To foster the illusion of realism in a novelistic fantasy, to convey the passage of time. Spectator Some Luck is as rich, beautiful and brilliant as Smiley's Pulitzer-Prize-winning A Thousand Acres. Place bets now for this year's Booker. -- Kate Saunders, Costa-winning author and critic Saga magazine
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. Her novel Horse Heaven was short-listed for the Orange Prize in 2002, and her latest novel, Private Life, was chosen as one of the best books of 2010 by the Atlantic, the New Yorker, and the Washington Post. She lives in northern California.