Some Luck by Jane Smiley
Some Luck is the first novel in a trilogy spanning 100 years in the life of the Langdon family, originally from Denby, Iowa. It was published in October, 2014 and was a 2014 National Book Award Nominee. I know I waited too long to read this novel with all the acclaim it has received, but with the sequels it is still worth mentioning in a review. Based on Some Luck, the trilogy is not to be missed.
Some Luck opens in 1920 when the oldest child of Walter and Rosanna Langdon, Frank, is a baby. From that point onwards, each chapter covers a year in the life of the family. Over the course of the 1920s, readers will see how the young couple begins their married life on a farm; raise their older children, Frank (1920), Joe (1922), and Mary Elizabeth (1924); fits in with their family, including how Rosanna’s sister Eloise lives with them and helps with the children; and how they react when tragedy strikes. The 1930s show how the family survives lack of help on their farm and the more prominent role the Frank and Joe took from an early age to compensate; how rural school are run; how bad harvests and dust storms affect farmers; and how three more children are added to the family-Lillian (1930), Henry (1932), and Claire (1939). The 1940s and beginning of the 1950s saw the efforts the family put towards the war efforts, mainly through Frank’s direct participation, Joe’s farming, and “mending and making do;” the marriages entered into by Frank and Lillian and the start of their families; and how famously Frank and his brother-in-law, Arthur, would get along and work together.
Several themes run throughout Some Luck. Persistence is key in every situation that each family member finds themselves in, collectively or individually. Readers will see how everyone found ways to survive despite the odds being against them (mainly before and during the Great Depression). Since all of the Langdon children are followed from birth, there are also many coming-of-age themes in the novel. This is especially true with Frank as he goes from the smart, but trouble-making child to college student with a penchant for fun while acing classes. Personally, I related more to Henry and his love for reading. The rise of Communism is addressed through Eloise and her communist husband and continued through their daughter, Rosa. The realities of World War II were addressed mainly though Franks role as a sniper in the European Theater of Operations and the fears expressed by his family at home. Towards the end, readers will see how in the post-war years many left the countryside for the cities and how that changed family life. As the book nears its end, readers will see the beginnings of the Red Scare which will likely define the next book, Early Warning, due out on April 28, 2015.
In all, I was glad to have read this novel. Some Luck is an engrossing and ambitious novel. In fact, the whole trilogy could be easily called ambitious! Alternative viewpoints provide readers with the insights of the person best suited to telling the story at each segment, regardless of age. Indeed, it interesting to read the snippets from Frank and Joe as babies and toddlers because that is something usually never seen in adult novels. Because of the format, readers come to love the characters and feel a fondness for each and every one. I cannot wait to see how their lives continue in Early Warning which will span from 1953 until the early 1980s!
I’m reviewing my personal copy of Some Luck.
For those who are interested, here’s a link to Jane Smiley’s website.
P.S. Yes, those lovely cornfields on the book cover do play an important role in the novel, especially where Joe is concerned.
Have you read Some Luck yet? If so, share your thoughts. If not, do you think you will? Do you know of a similar book worth sharing or have a different favorite Jane Smiley title to share?