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Some Luck
by Jane Smiley


Overview - 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.  Read more...


 
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More About Some Luck by Jane Smiley
 
 
 
Overview
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.

 
Details
  • ISBN-13: 9780307700315
  • ISBN-10: 0307700313
  • Publisher: Knopf Publishing Group
  • Publish Date: October 2014
  • Page Count: 416
  • Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.5 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.76 pounds

Series: Last Hundred Years Trilogy: A Family Saga

Related Categories

Books > Fiction > Historical - General
Books > Fiction > Sagas

 
Publishers Weekly Reviews

Publishers Weekly® Reviews

  • Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
  • Review Date: 2014-07-07
  • Reviewer: Staff

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.)

 
BookPage Reviews

One family's destiny, year by year

The question that will burn in a reader’s mind when she finishes Some Luck, Jane Smiley’s marvelous new novel, is: How long do I have to wait to read the second volume in The Last Hundred Years trilogy?

Jane Smiley laughs heartily when asked. “Well, that’s up to Knopf,” she says during a call to her home in Carmel Valley, California. Smiley is the author of such best-selling novels as Moo and the Pulitzer Prize-winning A Thousand Acres, as well as five works of nonfiction. She says she has already completed all of the volumes in the trilogy, which covers 100 years in the life of one family, with each chapter focusing on a single year.

Smiley is emphatic in her desire that “all three [volumes] come out as soon as possible. I really do feel that it’s one thing, and it’s important for volumes one and two to be in the reader’s mind when he or she is reading volume three.”

Some Luck opens in 1920 with Walter Langdon, on the eve of his 25th birthday, walking the fence lines of his barely-making-it farm near Denby, Iowa. He is thinking about the vicissitudes of farming; the admonishments of his strict father, a more successful and established farmer who lives down the road; his love for his 20-year-old, self-possessed and talkative wife Rosanna; and his five-month-old son, Frank—the first of five children who grow into memorable individuals over the course of the novel, and, presumably, go on in the next two novels to great and less great things. Some Luck closes in 1953, with the Langdon family—responding to social and economic forces arising from the Great Depression and World War II—having mostly abandoned their hometown and moved to the far ends of the country, as so many other Americans did in that era.

The Langdon family diaspora promises much for Smiley’s exploration of 20th-century American culture and politics in future volumes of the trilogy. But in Some Luck, the family is largely homebound. Only Walter and Rosanna’s final child, Claire, for example, is born in a hospital; the rest are born, sometimes excruciatingly, at home. So, with her vivid, tactile depiction of isolated, rural Iowa farm life, Smiley has imaginatively recaptured the dangers and rewards, the play of good luck and bad luck, in a lost way of life.

“I really wanted to take these characters and follow them from babyhood to death,” Smiley says. “And I want the reader to be reminded that there’s so much that we don’t remember, that there’s so much that we don’t know.”

I really wanted to take these characters and follow them from babyhood to death.

Smiley lived in Iowa for about 24 years as a student and professor and ended up living for a while in a sort of abandoned farmhouse. “I used to take long walks in the countryside, and I used to think a lot about farming. It became an interest and continued to be an interest as I stayed in Iowa. How we get our food, who grows the food and what the food is made of is central to any culture. . . . The Langdons love the farm, but they hate the farm. They are suspicious of soybeans, but they love oats. It’s an incredible amount of work, yet they feel a great sense of accomplishment. It was a very great pleasure to write about that.”

Smiley describes in some detail the research that went into creating her trilogy—the stacks of books on her office floor and her gratitude to Wikipedia, “which is great for a novelist because it’s OK—in fact it’s better—for your knowledge of something to be partial.” Remarkably, that research is completely subsumed in the consciousness and conversations of her characters.

As a result, Some Luck moves swiftly and assuredly through just over 33 years of the Langford clan’s experiences. Smiley says the novel’s velocity arises from the quirky year-by-year approach she deploys throughout the trilogy.

“Most trilogies are groups of stories that include some of the same characters and then don’t,” she says. “I wanted to write a book about a family, but I wanted it to progress evenly for 100 years. I didn’t know of anybody who had done that before and thought it would be fun to try. That’s the nerdy side of me. I wanted each volume to cover 3313 years and each chapter to be a certain number of pages. The only way I can justify that is that, in a novel with a plot, the plot gives you a form, but in a book that progresses through time, then something as simple as the divisions of the book give you form. I had to do a lot of research, but the energy that was inherent in that form really carried me along.”

Some Luck ends up being a quiet, almost self-effacing, Midwestern tour de force.

Some Luck ends up being a quiet, almost self-effacing, Midwestern tour de force. Smiley writes about farm life, family life and, suggestively, near the end, national political life. There are farming scenes, sex scenes, combat scenes and table-talk scenes.

Smiley says she began with the concept of the trilogy but ended up being swept away by the trajectories of her characters.

“There are three boys and two girls born over the course of 19 years. I wanted to be able to freely enter into everybody’s mind. So I had to be open to their most likely experiences. Frank at his age obviously is going to go off to the Second World War. So I have to be open to male experiences. And there is Lillian, who is the darling child—I’m really quite fond of Lillian—who realizes as she enters high school that she isn’t going to be everybody’s darling.

“I really did want to enter into the minds of the male characters, the female characters, the teenagers, the 20-year olds, the 40-year olds, and that meant I had to go everywhere that they might go.”

Wherever Smiley goes in Some Luck, most readers will willingly follow. Then wait, with bated breath, for her next steps.

 

This article was originally published in the October 2014 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

 
BAM Customer Reviews