Summer Book Review: Early Warning by Jane Smiley

Summer Book Review: Early Warning by Jane Smiley

Do you like to binge-watch a favorite TV series? Then Early Warning is for you.

The second in Jane Smiley’s epic history of the Iowa-farming Langdon family, Early Warning is the followup to Some Luck, which introduced readers to Walter and Rosanna Langdon and their brood—Frank, Joe, Lillian, Henry and Claire.

I will admit, it would be hard to pick up Early Warning having not read Some Luck and have a true understanding of the psychological makeup of the characters within the almost 500 pages. The children from Some Luck make up the adults in Early Warning, and it’s a fascinating exploration of how children grow into their own in adulthood, for better or worse, and subsequently raise their own children—in this book, Janny, Michael and Richie; Tim, Debbie, Dean and Tina; Annie and Jesse; Rosa; Gray and Brad.

The setting switches between homebase in Iowa to Chicago, New York, Virginia (D.C.) and California, as educational choices and careers spin the Langdons to the far corners of the country. Mix in the CIA, the defense and oil industries, therapists that employ sex for treatment, exploding land prices, women’s lib, a few too many drinks and Jim Jones and you are off to the races.

Without making too cheesy of a comparison, it’s like this—imagine reading an exquisitely well-rounded and beautifully written script of a daytime soap, from beginning to end. Like its predecessor, Early Warning is written year-to-year, which each chapter noting a moment in time. And instead of waiting weeks, months or even years to see if two characters stay together or remain apart, it’s all for the knowing at once.

Smiley has a way with prose that’s both revealing and easy with which to relate—particularly if you find yourself in the sandwich generation, watching your parents age alongside your children. How each of the Langdons relate to their mother, Rosanna, is interesting in that it isn’t much different than siblings in real life—there are those that flee as far as their dreams can take them, and those that stay closer to the nest.

I was especially intrigued with how Smiley develops and, in some cases, dismantles, the marriages within the novel—Frank and Andy, Joe and Lois, Lillian and Arthur, Claire and Paul … each has its own rhythm and reason to be, and you may find yourself rooting for or against particular players. Oh, Frank. And Paul? You’re an asshat.

Excited for Round 3 this fall with the final book in the trilogy, Golden Age. A great read, all around, but hefty. Take it on vacation and dive in.

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