Golden Age by Jane Smiley
Knopf, 2015. Hardcover, 464 pages.
Golden Age is the concluding novel of Jane Smiley’s Last Hundred Years Trilogy. It follows Some Luck and Early Warning in following the extended Langdon family. Picking up in the 1980s, the generation that entered the trilogy as children in the first novel are now senior citizens. We follow Frank on a cross country trip, Joe in his final years farming, Henry as he conducts his latest research and creates a family of his own, and Claire as she rediscovers happiness. Of the spouses, most of the focus is given to Frank’s wife, Andy who take on a predominate role in this novel. Of the third generation, those born at the end of the first book and start of the second, most of the focus is on Frank’s children, Janet, Richie, and Michael, and Joe’s son Jesse. Both Janet and Jesse face the struggles of raising their family and losing things they worked hard to obtain. Richie becomes a Democratic congressman with cousin Charlie and Charlie’s wife Riley playing a pivotal role in his life. Michael is, and pardon me, a lying, thieving SOB who will let nothing, family included, get in his way. The children of this generation also receive focus in the novel, mainly through Janet’s children; Michael’s son, Chance; and Charlie and Riley.
Historically speaking, the Langdon family has again brushed with many events. With Richie in Congress, he sees the Monica Lewinsky Scandal play out as well as the 2000 election results. 9/11 directly affects the family in more ways than one, with many lasting consequences. Jesse’s sons both go to war, Guthrie in Iraq and Perky in Afghanistan. While the latter loves his role and makes the military his career, Guthrie suffers from PTSD. The fires and droughts in the west are shown through Janet and her family plus Chance as they live in California. Even environmental events in the Midwest and East do not go untouched as Jesse faces worries during the 2011 flood and Hurricane Sandy affects those living in DC and New York.
Overall, I felt this to be a weaker novel at the beginning than the previous two, but it did get better as I read on. And the haunting ending is strong. Since the story concludes in 2019, Smiley predicts what the future may bring. Sadly, it is hard to ignore the fact she may be correct in some assumptions as recent news stories have shown (some of what was predicted has already started to happen just since the novel was published in October!). Others are what could happen if changes are not made now to lessen the problem, like climate change. Also, be prepared to have Kleenex handy as many deaths occur in this novel, some expected and others very unexpectedly.
Have you had the opportunity to read the previous two novels? Or since this one’s been out a bit, this novel? If so, what did you think? Have you enjoyed or not enjoyed the Langdon family story?
This review is based on a personal copy.