GOLDEN AGE by Jane Smiley


From the "Last Hundred Years" series, volume 3
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The title is decidedly sardonic, given the number of deaths and disasters Smiley inflicts on the Langdon family and kin in the final volume of her Last Hundred Years trilogy (Early Warning, 2015, etc.).

Nonetheless, “golden age” seems appropriate for the late-life reconciliation of Frank and Andy Langdon; it’s warmly affecting to see the remoteness Andy cultivated over decades of neglect slowly fade as Frank actually shares himself with her—until he’s struck by lightning at age 74. Several of his siblings meet less spectacular deaths as the story progresses year by year from 1987 through an imagined 2019, but autumnal musings by the survivors get no more space from this briskly unsentimental author than the maneuvers of the younger generations (a few of whom are somewhat schematically dispatched on 9/11 or scarred for life in the Iraq War). Frank and Andy’s son Michael remains as toxic as ever, engaging in ever shadier financial deals that make him one of many villains in the 2008 economic meltdown; his identical twin, Richie, strives to get some distance with a political career but can never entirely disengage from Michael's emotional force field. Their cousin Jesse, who inherited the family farm in Iowa, grapples with the havoc wrought by Monsanto’s genetically altered seeds, the impact of climate change on his crops, and the perennial financial insecurity of farmers, always in debt and vulnerable to predatory speculators like Michael. Newly introduced characters like Charlie (hitherto unknown son of a Langdon killed in Vietnam in Early Warning) and his girlfriend, Riley, militant political conscience of her boss, Richie, are welcome additions to Smiley’s vibrant gallery of fully fleshed characters, with Henry and Claire remaining the most ruefully appealing of the siblings we first met in Some Luck. The final chapters, which look a scant four years ahead and see nothing but ecological and political bad news, are almost comically bleak—let’s hope Smiley isn’t as skilled a fortuneteller as she is a storyteller.

Despite all the dire events, the narrative energy of masterfully interwoven plotlines always conveys a sense of life as an adventure worth pursuing.

Pub Date: Oct. 20th, 2015
ISBN: 978-0-307-70034-6
Page count: 464pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 2015


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