Early Warning

Opening Early Warning, part two of Jane Smiley's projected Last Hundred Years trilogy, is like dropping in on a family reunion with the Langdons from 2014's Some Luck.

From 1953 through 1986, Early Warning covers the adult lives of the five children born to Walter and Rosanna Langdon on their farm in Denby, Iowa. The novel begins with Walter's funeral, where his children and grandchildren have convened. Only Joe, his second son, chose farm life. Predictably, Frank, the self-directed firstborn, enjoys postwar prosperity, taking measured risks in the weapons industry and real estate in metropolitan New York. At the wake, he and his brother-in-law Arthur, babies in tow, confer about politics and Stalin's death.

The characters are so vivid that even as the Langdons multiply, each remains distinctive: Frank's wife, Andy, obsesses over nuclear war; Henry, the youngest, conceals his homosexuality from his Midwestern family; the politically left Berkeley cousins include one who follows Rev. Jim Jones of the Peoples Temple. Romances, parenthood, births and deaths balance the historic themes as Walter and Rosanna's kids grow up in a modern era, in places far removed from their Iowa roots.

Rosanna keeps up with the times, and her growth is especially endearing as she learns to drive and maneuvers the world beyond Denby. Her experience--from horse-and-carriage days to Vietnam and Watergate--underscores the changes of her lifetime. It's good to know the Langdons will be back, entering the 21st century, in the last book of Smiley's trilogy. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco

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