1920, Denby, Iowa: Rosanna and Walter Langdon have just welcomed their firstborn son, Frank, into their family farm. He will be the oldest of five.
Each chapter in this extraordinary novel covers a single year, encompassing the sweep of history as the Langdons abide by time-honored values and pass them on to their children. With the country on the cusp of enormous social and economic change through the early 1950s, we watch as 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 we’d seen growing up now has a little girl of her own.
(Story synopsis from book cover of Anchor Books edition/Cover image from goodreads.com)
Some Luck by Jane Smiley was the September book club book for Pi Phi Pages, the Pi Beta Phi virtual book club. While this is a historical fiction novel, I’m not sure if it’s one that I normally would have picked up on my own. (Book clubs are great for getting someone to step outside of their comfort reading zone to explore new authors and literature!)
Jane Smiley has created a novel that is not your typical historical fiction type of novel. Instead of focusing on just one character or a particular event in history, Smiley has written a book where the reader is able to follow each member of a family over time. Each chapter is a different year in history, starting in 1920, and the reader is introduced to the thoughts of each member of the family and their thoughts.
This creates a unique perspective, by being able to see how the events of history affect different people and how each person deals with information. Smiley has also done a brilliant job of showing family dynamics through the Langdon family. Throughout the novel, we see how traditions influence decisions that need to be made, how the need to find oneself causes differences within the family, how fear can override what we know is best for our family, and how the changing times forces the way things are done to change in order to survive.
Jane Smiley has created a family that is relatable in their family dynamics, while making it easy to understand each individual character and the choices they make. The reader can become invested in the lives of each one, while also seeing the family as a whole and their unique dynamics. The writing of Smiley in Some Luck is effortless and moving. If one is interested in looking at the events of American history through the eyes of an ordinary family, then Some Luck will be an interesting and unique read.
Smiley has continued the Langdon’s family story in the second and third books of the series, Early Warning (#2 in the series) and Golden Age (#3 in the series). I have yet to read these, but I am looking forward to continuing the story and watching the younger members of the family develop.