the story of the Langford family of Iowa. As the story unfolds, Walter is twenty-four years old with a wife, Rosanna, and baby, Frank. Walter serves in Europe during World War I. When he returns, he becomes enamored by young Rosanna Vogel....
Some Luck is a 2014 novel by Jane Smiley. It is the first in a trilogy of novels about an Iowa family over the course of generations. It was longlisted for the 2014 National Book Award.
Jane Smiley (born September 26, 1949) is an American novelist. She won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1992 for her novel A Thousand Acres.
In 2006 Jane Smiley received the Fitzgerald Award for Achievement in American Literature award which is given annually in Rockville Maryland, the city where Fitzgerald, his wife, and his daughter are buried as part of the F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Festival.
Barn Blind (1980)
At Paradise Gate (1981)
Duplicate Keys (1984)
The Greenlanders (1988)
A Thousand Acres (1991)
The All-True Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton (1998)
Horse Heaven (2000)
Good Faith (2003)
Ten Days in the Hills (2007)
Private Life (2010)
Some Luck (2014)
Early Warning (April, 2015)
Golden Age (October 20, 2015)
Short story collections
The Age of Grief (1987)
Ordinary Love & Good Will (1989)
Catskill Crafts (1988)
Charles Dickens (2003)
A Year at the Races: Reflections on Horses, Humans, Love, Money, and Luck (2004)
Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel (2005)
The Man Who Invented The Computer (2010)
Young adult novels
The Georges and the Jewels (2009)
A Good Horse (2010)
True Blue (2011)
Pie in the Sky (2012)
Gee Whiz (2013)
Reception of Some Luck
The reviews have been generally favorable, with the Washington Post concluding that "Smiley delivers a straightforward, old-fashioned tale of rural family life in changing times. Her no-muss, no-fuss storytelling, if unsurprising, is also frequently subtle, wry and moving." The New York Times review included 'Some Luck' was "...very skillfully conceived, an elegant solution to the historical novelist’s problem of how to raise the big barn that is the past without relying too much on power tools or hired help
Try to pin Jane Smiley down at your peril: she is as likely to write a campus novel (Moo) as a 14th-century historical saga (The Greenlanders) or a foray into the world of breeders and racetracks (Horse Heaven). Her Pulitzer prize-winning novel A Thousand Acres is a midwestern agricultural story that is also a retelling of King Lear; her Hollywood-set comedy of manners Ten Days in the Hills is modelled on The Decameron. Alongside her 14 novels are several works of non-fiction and books for young adults.
What fuels this apparently insatiable restlessness, and does anything connect a body of work that seems, on the face of it, so disparate? Two extremely condensed answers: a curiosity and a deep preoccupation with the variety of ways narrative can simultaneously accommodate individual and group lives. Smiley has shown no great fondness for the miniature canvas, or for two inches of ivory; no willingness to be confined to a particular historical period, or location, or way of writing, although the last could perhaps (albeit reductively) be described as realist storytelling.
It is storytelling in expansive mode, and perhaps more in evidence than ever in Some Luck, which is the first of a projected trilogy called The Last Hundred Years – a title that we can take literally. In this opening volume, we follow the story of the Langdons, an Iowan farming family, from 1920 to 1953, with a chapter for each year, a period that takes us from the aftermath of the first world war via the Depression and the second world war to the era of the atomic bomb. The extent to which each of these vast events is elaborated depends principally on the novel’s shifting point of view: we might witness an effect of the Depression, for example, in the hastily reported offstage story of a hold-up in town; or we might find ourselves brought as closely to conflict as the oldest Langdon son, Frank, who becomes a sniper in the allied army. This is one of the novel’s cleverest traits: its rhythmic unfolding lulls us into the sense that, somehow, we can tell what is going to happen. We can’t; we think we’re in for another tranche of unpredictable corn prices and then suddenly someone’s married a spy.
And then there are things we never really know much about at all. The story begins in 1920, as Walter Langdon surveys his land, while his wife Rosanna keeps an eye on baby Frank, the first of six children we will meet. For Walter, the farm represents his safe return from France, and separation from his own family, achievement and potential; for Frank, it is the vivid, fragmented apprehension of the world, of porch and cat and grass and road and corn, “and around that, a different thing, empty, flat, and large, the thing that lay over all things”.
But, already, stories have gone untold. The Langdons are not native Iowans, but an immigrant family blended of Scottish and Irish blood with, possibly, a hint of Spanish pirates; now Walter is himself blending with Rosanna’s family, the German-born Vogels and Augsbergers. Of those individual stories, we hear only random snippets. There is scant detail, too, of what has brought the newlyweds together or, subsequently, what their relationship is like in its private moments. Both the novel’s surface reality and its structure suggest there will always be casualties in what we can see, unplugged gaps, and that life will roll on when our attention is elsewhere.
But there is plenty in that rolling narrative, from dramatic childbirths to meandering romances, from long lives to unexpected deaths, all set against the gradual encroachment of a gatheringly powerful modernity. Change makes itself felt first in concrete physical developments – the tractor that can no longer be reasonably resisted, the electric light that replaces the kerosene lamp – but later in the challenge it presents to family stability, and not merely for those who choose to leave. “Had they ever seen the White House?” wonders Rosanna, reflecting on her and Walter’s life once their children have grown up. “No, they had not. Nor any ocean of any kind. Stuck on the farm like two shoats struggling in a hog pen. The state fair was all very well, but it shouldn’t be the last thing you saw in your life. At first you thought of people like Eloise and Frank and Lillian as runaways and then, after a bit, you knew they were really scouts.”
But Some Luck is not simply an observation of family life and the pressures it is naturally susceptible to; it is also a dissection of the idea of family, and of the truths its facade will shield from view. Despite the novel’s populous cast, our attention is never away from Frank, the character whose sense of connection to his parents, sibling and extended family is consistently the most complex and unsettling. Frank is this novel’s disruptor, its unknown quantity and, consequently, its source of energy. He resists interpretation even, or perhaps especially, by his own family: “That was life, as far as Walter was concerned – you surveyed the landscape and took note of what was needed, and then you did it, and the completed tasks piled up behind you like a kind of treasure, or at least evidence of virtue. What life was for Frankie he could not imagine.” It’s not surprising that Smiley alighted on a loner to illuminate her family chronicle: doing it the easy way isn’t really her thing.
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