GOLDEN AGE: LIFE IN THESE UNITED STATES OVER THE LAST 100 YEARS

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Golden Age
Author: Jane Smiley
Publisher: Alfred Knopf (2015)
Genre: Realistic Fiction, Family saga
Hardcover Edition: 443 pages
Source: Personal Copy

After three riveting novels, Jane Smiley’s trilogy, the 100-year story of an American farm family comes to a powerful conclusion. Golden Age is the final volume and in it readers follow the Langdon clan from 1987 to 2019. In this novel the structure of each new year encapsulated in a chapter continues.

Writing of the first two novels, Some Luck and Early Warning, I referred to fully drawn characters, graceful prose, and scenes the reader mines for meaning. The final novel is more plot driven and the suspense regarding the fate of the characters builds with each turn of the page.

Smiley’s story telling is clear and economical. It addresses the issues of the time. Through Richie Langdon one of Frank Langdon’s twin sons, she satirizes American politics. He becomes for a time a congressman. Also on stage in this last novel are wars, and their effect on those who survive. At the center of it all are the changes in farming in the Midwest.

This author absolutely nails the details of farm life, the farm scene, and the cruel machinations of the farm business. Jane Smiley knows the subjects she writes about, whether medieval literature, horses, politics or geography: Washington D.C. the Midwest and California to name three locals where much action is set. She seems to understand terror and happiness. So this tale is no mere recitation of facts, but rather characters who take the reader inside issues and enable the reader to experience their never-simple emotions.

She works her magic on a huge canvas, yet each scene, each family unit, each relationship comes clearly into focus. In this final book, the unexpected is more shocking, grabbing and twisting the reader’s emotions. While we were reading everyday life as it evolves through the Golden Age, we discover much has changed, irrevocably.

My three adjectives: brilliant, fascinating, magic. Certainly one of the best books I’ve read this year.

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