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Some Luck by Jane Smiley

Sarah Broadhurst's view...

The first in a trilogy, a family saga following the Langdons over one hundred years, beginning in 1920. This volume goes through to 1953. They are a farming family of hardworking, stoical parents and five children. On the whole it is strong-willed Frank who dominates this volume but it is all told from their many perspectives. Detailed and covering the Great Depression, drought, World War II and such with a chapter a year, it’s been dubbed ‘The Great American Novel’. Fans of her A Thousand Acres will know the territory for this too is set in Iowa, only it’s very different in flavour being slower and yet leaving you wondering about the lives of those who survive this volume and so compelling you on to the next. That one will move through to the 1980s and Vietnam.

If you like Jane Smiley you might also like to read books by Marge Piercy, Matthew Thomas and Elizabeth Jane Howard.

Who is Sarah Broadhurst

The Good Book Guide logo The Good Book Guide Review. The first book in a trilogy that will span a century, this sensitive and beautifully observed novel begins in rural Iowa in 1920, with young Walter Langdon returned home after fighting in France, embarking on a farming career with his wife Rosanna. Each chapter covers a year in the family’s life, taking their story through the Depression, the Second World War, and up to the early 1950s. We follow Walter and Rosanna as their children are born, grow, and are finding their own paths in adulthood. This is a portrait of a family, universal and highly individual, sharp and often unexpected in its depiction of the shifts of fortune.
~ The Good Book Guide


Some Luck by 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.


'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

About the Author

Jane Smiley

Jane Smiley was born in LA, grew up in St Louis and studied at Vassar and Iowa. She won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Award in 1992 for 'A Thousand Acres'.

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Book Info

Publication date

26th February 2015


Jane Smiley

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Picador an imprint of Pan Macmillan


640 pages


Family Drama
Literary Fiction
eBook Favourites

Historical fiction



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