Some Luck by Jane Smiley

512B-mP2K2IL._SX342_Fiction – audiobook. Read by Lorelei King. Random House Audio, 2014. 14 hours, 48 minutes. Library copy. 

I purchased a printed copy of Smiley’s novel a little over two years ago, which is why I included the novel on my to-read list for 20 Books of Summer earlier this year. But the tiny print bothered my eyes, and I put the book aside until I could source one with larger print. I never did find an edition with larger print, but my new public library happened to feature the audiobook version earlier this month.

I’m glad I switched from print to audiobook as the story really lends itself to this format. Each chapter constitutes one year in the life of the Langdon family from 1920 to 1953, and each chapter contains segments featuring the point of view of all seven members of the immediate Langdon family plus those that come to live with them over the years.

King provides a unique voice to each character, and it was easy to keep all the different actors straight with her narration. Better yet, Smiley’s writing style made me feel like I was moving through challenges, personal development, and sorrows with her characters. This format could have easily been a jarring experience – a drop into one crisis after the other.

But I always felt like I was looking through a window throughout time as Smiley’s characters encounter the major events of the 20th century (i.e. the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, War War II) and the minor (i.e. the “modernization” of childrearing, the rise of monoculture in Iowa). I chuckled at Frank, the firstborn Langdon child, expressing his fascination with a spoon as an infant, but that character (and the voice King gave him) is easily reconcilable with the jaded veteran tracking a Communist sympathizer in DC he becomes.

Frank’s tracking is about as action-packed as this novel becomes. It focuses more on the rhythm of life – births, marriages, and death – to provide drama. But I found that seemingly mundane focus to be beautiful and moving in Smiley’s hands as she crafts an intimate portrayal of American life in the Midwest and the impact technology and economic change has on them.

This novel is the start of a three-part series; the second novel covers 1953 to 1986 and the final installment concludes one hundred years after the start of Some Luck. I worried this novel would end on a cliffhanger as a result, but Smiley stops the story in the 1950s as a natural conclusion. Even if I never finish the rest of this series (although I hope to do so), I feel satisfied with the way this one ended.

Some Luck was longlisted for the National Book Award in 2014.

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