I borrowed this book from the library.
As the year draws to a close, I wanted to read more American fiction both for the USA Fiction Challenge and just for a break from the Scandinavian stuff I read so much of. I’m very glad I read this book. After a few reservations in the first half of the book, I was very impressed with this book.
This particular book has a broad sweep: every chapter covers a different year in the life of Walter and Rosanna Langdon, farmers in rural Iowa. The nearest village is Denby, population 214. The sweep of the story doesn’t sink in until about halfway through the book as World War II begins: the first half is a story of farm life and their family. (I didn’t think the sections from the perspective of the characters as babies were so successful, and I will admit that the Great Depression chapters were a hard read purely for the subject matter). As time marches on and the children get bigger, their stories take off.
There are a few set pieces in the latter half of the novel that are simply gorgeous as one character or another takes a step back and looks at their lives or the land within their view, and I feel like I’m in the hands of a gorgeous writer at those moment: I can’t include an excerpt because it would give away a bit too much of the plot. As much as I feel some of the characters are unknowable, I’m very much invested in the story and these characters. The mysteriousness arises just because this is a novel with a large cast of characters: Smiley can’t get into everyone’s story in just one volume. Book 2 comes out next year.
I’m reluctant to say more about this book because I don’t want to give away significant plot arcs, but I will say that the story broadens as some of the characters move away from home and the years proceed (the book starts in the 1920’s and ends in 1953).