Some Luck

Jane Smiley, who won the Pulitzer Prize for A Thousand Acres, again uses Iowa as her stage, this time for Some Luck, the first of a proposed trilogy that will cover 100 years of one family. In 1920, young Walter and Rosanna are starting to fill their little farmhouse with heirs. As the children grow, tiny Denby, Iowa, is buffeted by drought, Depression, war and change.

Salt-of-the-earth farmers, the Langdons lead typical Midwestern rural lives: nature, extended family and small-town society define their days. Smiley's characters are a microcosm of America, all facing sweeping changes. Should they swap their horses for a tractor? What will they do if the well runs dry? Is a hospital birth really safer? Walter and Rosanna's fortitude--and a little luck--sees them through.

Rosanna has six babies at the farm, but it's her firstborn, Frank, who transports the novel beyond Denby. Breathtakingly bright and handsome, he's also the child who defies tradition. He escapes the farm at 16 and eventually wins research grants at Iowa State. Smiley juxtaposes Frank's worldly experiences with the farm-bound Langdons' life. Her picture of mid-century America encompasses the mundane (the price of corn, Roseanne and Walter's mellowing marriage, the distinct characteristics of the children) and broader historical events (Chicago relatives embrace "The Party," Pearl Harbor propels Frank into the army).

Some Luck closes in 1953, as Frank's generation enjoys postwar prosperity and bears children, and Walter prepares for the next season's planting. Young Langdons and Smiley's keen eye for history guarantee rich sequels. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco

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