Originally published November 2015
Typically, I’m not much for series when it comes to books.
There’s so much to read, so little time … beyond Harry Potter, there just hasn’t been one that really was a must-read for me. But Jane Smiley’s “100 Years” trilogy was a game changer for me. (Stephen King has a good one going too, but I digress …)
“Golden Age” is the third and final book in her trilogy about the Langdon family, which started with “Some Luck” and continued with “Early Warning.” Each book, while encompassing the comings and goings of an ever-expanding family tree, had a primary focus. In “Some Luck,” it was Walter and Rosanna Langdon, the matriarch and patriarch of the family. Their Iowa farm was the primary setting and the drama that goes with farming and family in the early 1900s provided the commentary.
In “Early Warning,” the focus shifted to the kids, primarily Frank and Joe—each making their mark in the world in vastly different ways. And with “Golden Age,” readers are asked to jump down another branch into the family tree, with the focus set on their kids—mostly Frank’s kids Michael and Richie, and Joe’s son Jesse—with a large supporting cast of characters along the way. Far too many to mention, but all integral to the story.
Intentionally or not, Jane Smiley crafted the three-book series on family much like a life cycle: birth, life and death. “Golden Age” has a lot of death going on, and some members of the clan meet their maker in some pretty insane ways—it was much like reading a season’s worth of “Six Feet Under” scripts. “Golden Age” is also about resolution—how some family members deal with long-simmering feuds, the aftermath of crisis and one-upping one another. (Frank’s wife Andy …. absolutely amazing!)
The beauty of the book, at least for me, is that readers have the ability to connect with these characters in a much-deeper way than a single book would allow. You learn to love and appreciate them, for all their passion, all their flaws—of which there are many.
In a conversation I had earlier this year with Jane Smiley, we talked family, and how such different children can come from the same parents, regardless of whether or not the methods with which they were raised were the same. This trilogy is a tribute to that notion—and offers respite to parents wondering “Where did I go wrong?” In raising little humans, we need to remember it isn’t all about us.
Gloriously soapy, dramatic, romantic, and engaging. Start with “Some Luck” and buckle in for a roller coaster ride.