Author: Jane Smiley
Genre: Fiction, Family Saga, Realistic Fiction
Publisher: Alfred Knopf
Hardcover Edition: 395 pages
Source: Personal copy
Reading this book is pure joy. It’s also a clinic on how to write a novel, how to fit together the pieces of a story so character is revealed. Characters drive this story. The structure of the book allows readers to see characters, not through a glass, darkly, but in the clear daylight.
Jane Smiley is a Pulitzer Prize winning novelist and this, her latest book, is the first volume of a trilogy. It follows Walter and Rosanna Langdon, a young Iowa farm couple, beginning in 1920 and tells the adventures of their family for the next 30 years. Potential readers might ask: What could be of interest? And answer: I know farming is hard – weather, weather, weather. Those readers will be pleasantly surprised at the adventure and the nuance found in this story. Though the saga begins in Iowa, Smiley has said she knew as the children of Walter and Rosanna Langdon grew, different settings would come into play, and they do.
Every line of prose possesses grace. Smiley’s remarkable characters live, think, love and grow, always interesting, so much so it is almost maddening. How does she do it? Smiley creates characters of all ages, living, breathing, loving, disappointed, lonely, and more. Each of the five children displays a different personality. Their story grows in unique and fascinating ways, yet is universal. Amazing thoughts, ideas and observations live inside baby Frank’s head and so readers learn the details of life inside the farmhouse and the people who are Frank’s parents. Multiple viewpoints and multiple narrators keep the reader interested and thinking. Soon the reader is privy to more than baby Frank’s viewpoint.
Each chapter tells a year of the Langdon story––never a summary, always action packed and vital with detail. A line from the book jacket describes the story well: “taking us (readers) 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 stand’s wholly on it’s own.” This literary adventure is not to be missed. As Smiley has said in an article by Charles McGrath, and I paraphrase, …in real life things come and go. In many novels things come and come and come and then end. From Smiley “dramatic things happen but then you live through them, you go on. This novel builds plot on real life and creates an extraordinary world of wonder and suspense. If people are your passion, you will love this book.
This reader wonders if any other book can top it as my fiction favorite of 2015? I’ll be surprised if it does not remain at the top of my list. The second book of the trilogy is expected in the spring of this year. I’m ready and waiting.