Jane Smiley’s ‘Some Luck’

some luckSome Luck follows the lives of Walter and Rosanna Langdon, year by year from 1920 to 1953. From a young couple starting their lives on a farm in Iowa, the book follows their family as it grows and expands, following them across the country and beyond as they find love, go to war, discover new things about themselves and have children of their own.

All of this is set against the backdrop of wider global issues taking place at the time, placing this one fictional family firmly in the middle of some of the most important events of America’s twentieth century – from the Great Depression to the prohibition to the Second World War and the beginning of the Cold War.

Walter and Rosanna are a typical Midwest rural farming couple, and they raise a family in the hope that their children will go out into the world and choose their own paths. They sacrifice everything they have to keep their family going – enduring drought, falling prices and poverty to make sure that there’s food on their table and that their children never go without an education.

Rosanna goes through a particularly difficult journey. She loses a child, and this profoundly affects the rest of her life. She struggles with her faith and punishes herself for something that wasn’t her fault, all of the time continuing to raise her ever growing family.

Each of the children has their own personality and their own flaws – and each of them chooses a very different path in life. I particularly enjoyed the sections that were told from the point of view of firstborn baby Frank, and because of this, he remained the character I was most interested in throughout the novel.

The story is structured as a year by year account, each segment giving us a series of snapshots into where people are and what they’re doing at any given time. These snapshots show us life through the eyes of many different characters, giving us an intimate insight into all of their hopes, dreams and desires. There’s a great deal of skill involved in Smiley’s ability to flit from viewpoint to viewpoint while still keeping us hooked on her every word.

As time goes on and more children, husbands, wives and grandchildren join the fray, the result is an ever widening circle of characters, none of whom ever really takes centre stage. Because of this, it felt like there was no real central story line to get stuck into. People suffer different fates, but because no one had been singled out as a main character, the plot just rolled on regardless. Event death is treated as just a matter of course, a definite bump in the road, but as the chapters and years pass, it’s clear that the others will eventually find a way to carry on living and building their own lives regardless.

The plot rolls on, year by year, casting an all seeing eye over the lives of the entire family, but there was never a real turning point where I could clearly see where the story was headed. In fact, it felt a bit like I was reading the book version of The Waltons.

Despite this, I really enjoyed reading it. By the end of the book, it felt like I really knew the characters personally, and I want to find out more about what happens to them. I’m looking forward to the next two books to come in the planned trilogy, which I’m sure will continue to take us through the major events of the past century through the eyes of Walter and Rosanna’s children, grandchildren and their families.

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