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Early Warning: A novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, April 28, 2015
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“Triumphant. Richly engrossing . . . Smiley propels the Langdons—and her readers—into American life. Here are the big historic events [from 1953 to 1986]—from the Cold War to Vietnam; JFK’s presidency and assassination to the Jonestown mass suicides; Watergate to the Iran hostage crisis; the AIDS epidemic to the sexual revolution—that defined those times. [But] while history shapes Early Warning, it is the personal dramas that command attention. Charismatic, amoral Frank, who seems to make money at whatever he turns to, is still at the center . . . Smiley’s saga mines the inner lives of its characters. Early Warning is a masterful novel that sets the universal questions about love, family, home and identity against the background of a turbulent century. If there is a flaw, it is only that readers will have to wait for The Golden Age, the final volume of Smiley’s brilliantly conceived epic trilogy.” —Amy Goodfellow Wagner, examiner.com (five stars)
“Smiley’s most significant work . . . Early Warning’s scope is broad without ever veering off course. It’s about the adult Langdon children and the people they’re becoming, who they’ve created, the lives they’ve lived and built, along with all the political, natural, social, economical, ecological, fashionable, and cultural happenings that swirl around them on and off the farm. If anyone thought the prolific Smiley peaked with A Thousand Acres, they’d be wrong . . . Absorbing.” —Wendy Ward, Baltimore City Paper
“A king-size American quilt of a novel, with fifty-plus characters and thirty-four years of plot about an ambitious Midwestern clan [whose] family members range across the midcentury political spectrum . . . Smiley has a superb ear for downhome understatement.” —The New Yorker
“Expansive yet intimate . . . crisply detailed. The second volume of Smiley’s trilogy takes the Langdons through 1986. While the siblings at the novel’s heart chart their own paths, they’re never truly apart. While [an] older sister feels she’s ‘known true love from the day she was born,’ the youngest wants to forgive their mother, ‘but she couldn’t remember what for.’ Among the novel’s many successes are those contradictory touch points; when the personal and the public match up (in a Vietnam chapter worthy of Tim O’Brien), the narrative can be heartbreaking. The Langdon family is a vast, collective character unto itself—lovingly claustrophobic, emotionally interdependent, sending out ever more branches.” —Roy Hoffman, The New York Times Book Review
“Early Warning opens two weeks after Joseph Stalin’s death in 1953—more challenging authorial territory [than Some Luck]; Smiley succeeds not by following convention, but by creating conventions of her own. Ignoring the traditional novelistic template, she replicates in these novels the less synchronized, plodding pace of unmappable, everyday real life. As in real life, crises erupt in a disorderly fashion, and then recede, and then arise again. Characters are tested in small moments as well as during life-altering events. Problems, relationships, situations are resolved, only to present themselves again. Early Warning unfolds during perhaps the most fascinating chunk of the century under this trilogy’s consideration: 1953–1986. Big things happen in the world . . . Smiley keeps God in the details, and the details anchored in time, so the reader always hears the ticking clock that distinguishes one era from the next; [she] peppers the narrative with evocative historical icons. She puts her characters through crises and situations—closeted gay life, psychoanalysis, difficult pregnancy decisions, cults, cross-class marriages, plain old bad marriages—that reinforce her thoroughgoing portrait of the times. But the real magic of this novel is that which makes every Jane Smiley book a work of art, recognizably hers: the writing, the writing, the writing. Evident in every chapter is the author’s attachment to, and abiding love for, the flat Midwestern landscape where her imagination first took shape . . . At its heart, Early Warning (and one can assume, the entire trilogy) wrestles with a single question of human existence, confounding and foundational in every era, and for every living person: What makes a family? . . . It’s a measure of Smiley’s mastery that in meeting her self-imposed challenge to play with every genre, she has, in a sense, invented a new one. There’s much that’s truly innovative about Smiley’s match-up between form and function, and it is part of the pleasure of the text to follow her near-perfect use of medium to deliver her message. Will the final installment of The Last Hundred Years measure up to the first two? Smiley bestows on her readers this gift, too: we’ll have to wait less than one year to find out.” —Meredith Maran, Los Angeles Review of Books
“Masterful . . . Smiley’s brilliance is twofold. In telling the story of an American family, she unfurls the troubled trajectory of 20th century America. Her prose, almost documentary-like, is slyly revealing, offering small, moving, sometimes funny epiphanies that reward the attentive reader. Some Luck began the story of farmer Walter Langdon, his wife Rosanna and their brood of kids in 1920, and swept through the Depression and World War II. Early Warning opens with Walter's funeral in 1953, and these kids, now grown up, saying goodbye to their father . . . Smiley makes her characters utterly individual, each grown into the adult from the child we met in the first book. Her ability to write from a child's point of view—to literally see the world from a knee-high vantage point—is something of a miracle, and never sentimental. We meet a new generation—the baby-boom kids of Frank and his siblings—in Early Warning, who grow up before our eyes, as their parents did in the first book. As we land in the 1980s, yet another generation of Langdons is beginning to arrive in the world. Bring on volume three—soon, please—and the Millennial Langdons.” —Jocelyn McClurg, USA Today
“Absorbing . . . dynamic . . . The Pulitzer winner continues her intimate and exceptional exploration of American history through the eyes of an Iowa family . . . Smiley is elegantly tucking a busy century into three volumes full of life, humor and sharp observation . . . Early Warning picks up where Smiley left off [in Some Luck] and barrels ahead through 1986, bumping up against the Cold War, Vietnam, the counterculture revolution and other historic touchstones . . . She quickly corrals her large cast, deploying them with care and painting each important character with unique tics and wrinkles . . . Despite the book’s sorrows, Smiley ends on a lovely note of optimism. Many things can go wrong, yes, but we live fully in the moments that are right.” —Connie Ogle, Miami Herald
“The second installment of Smiley’s Last Hundred Years trilogy follows the next generation of Langdons across a mid-twentieth century American panorama, evoking—with perceptiveness and sweep—the social revolutions that realign their fates.” —Megan O’Grady, Vogue
“Wondrous . . . Early Warning is a good reminder that the big, juicy novel is ascendant again . . . Smiley enriches the great-events model of American history with her equal attention to cultural history, and she makes the lives of obscure women, men and children as important as the lives of Great Men . . . Like the 19th-century novels she invokes, her stories revel in coincidences, repetitions, revelations and elaborations of events and themes. The surprises are irresistible. She plucks from a crowded gathering of relatives and, one by one, develops lives that are rich, mysterious and constantly changing . . . The Midwestern intonations of Early Warning shift subtly as Smiley narrates the Langdons’ moves to the East and West coasts, their educations, their travels to Europe, their rapid ascension into wealth and the inclusion of other ethnicities and sexual preferences into their midst. As their world expands, the events becomes mesmerizing, the reading compulsive and the direct language a guard against sentimentality.” —Valerie Sayers, The Washington Post
“Absorbing. It's a good thing we only had to wait six months for Early Warning, the second volume of Smiley's ambitious Last Hundred Years trilogy. Why? Because we were eager to follow up on the members of the Iowa farm family she introduced in Some Luck. As Smiley continues her year-by-year march, we are pulled into her characters’ dramas. In its sweeping scope, Smiley's saga recalls Balzac's Human Comedy, John Dos Passos's U.S.A. trilogy and John Updike's Rabbit quartet. Firmly rooted in history, this middle volume begins two weeks after Joseph Stalin's death in 1953 and extends through 1986. The novel's cumulative power lies in the unfolding lives of its characters. . . The Last Hundred Years trilogy is about change—both societal and personal. One of [its] many pleasures is that her characters evolve, sometimes surprising even themselves. Smiley's signature achievement, in this by turns wry and wise old-fashioned yarn, is her skill at deftly shifting focus between the long and short views. Early Warning doesn't leave us hanging, but it does leave us looking forward to the finale of this epic endeavor.” —Heller McAlpin, NPR.org
“Wonderful. As the title suggests, Early Warning is tinged with vague and real dread—not only the Cold War dread of nuclear annihilation but also dread of the draft, of cults, of AIDS, of potential childhood accidents . . . Yet what’s most captivating about Early Warning is not the panoramic view of large-scale historical events or the shifting social zeitgeist of our country; they are background for the characters’ lives, longings and disappointments. Smiley deftly shifts point of view, from toddler to grandmother, often in the same chapter. We intimately come to know all the Langdons and the high emotional stakes in their lives . . . Smiley poses large questions and offers powerful insights.” —Natalie Serber, San Francisco Chronicle
“As in Some Luck, Early Warning covers thirty-three years of societal, economic, and political change, [but] focuses on the individual experiences and reactions of her characters. The Last Hundred Years has a restrained, subtle style; despite its old-fashioned feel, there are no romanticized, happy endings. Smiley manages to work in a variety of experiences for her characters—both loving and loveless marriages, in addition to adultery, alcoholism, homosexuality, and a suicide attempt—without anything feeling melodramatic or overwrought . . . Above all, Smiley is a master of the intimate details that reveal the inner depths of the characters. The third book of the trilogy will end in 2020, and it will be fascinating to see what predictions of the future Smiley will make.” —Eleanora Buckbee, Everyday eBook
“Nuanced and intimate. Smiley's ambitious project, isn't driven by traditional plot, or rising action that leads to a climax and resolution. Instead, each chapter represents a year in the life of the family, covering what's notable, from the quotidian to eventful. It reads more like an unconventional diary, but that doesn't mean readers will be any less caught up in the small and large dramas of the Langdons' everyday lives . . . In Early Warning, Iowa is still the emotional and psychic vortex of the characters' lives, no matter how far they travel, or how many new, more diverse branches have sprouted on the Langdon family tree . . . Smiley's generous and engaging study of family life, time and place isn't so much about what happens but how things happen, and the ways in which the characters respond and endure. The unconventional form of Smiley's undertaking works for a long, sprawling epic, because the first two books in the trilogy somehow capture the feel and aesthetic of an American family. You meet the Langdons in Some Luck, but by the time you finish Early Warning, you'll feel like you are one of them.” —Christi Clancy, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
“Brilliant . . . Dickensian in its breadth and detail, Early Warning is distinctly un-Dickensian in its sense of purpose. It reflects a distinctly modern understanding of life—and fiction—as unplotted except in the direction and shape that each character, in uneasy alliance with chance, chooses and views as a meaningful pattern . . . The book immerses us in daily life as experienced by the old and young, the aimless and enterprising. And when matters of greater social or cultural consequence touch these lives, we see and feel them as a character does. Whether these characters are debating politics, escaping an oppressive husband, facing grave illness, seeking solace in a cult, falling in love, making a deal, going through basic training or caring for a child, their doings are conveyed in intimate detail, felt and understood on each character’s own terms. Smiley delivers moments when, among the daily maneuvers and mundane details the arc of her narrative lifts us, and we see for an instant how anything might happen.” —Ellen Akins, Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Enthralling . . . vividly etched . . . Smiley grew up in the '50s and '60s, so the world of Early Warning is both familiar and fascinating to her. Smiley's books mix political and social ideas with personal lives. When the third volume of the trilogy is published, Smiley hopes the readers will step back and ask a question: ‘Are the bad things that have happened in the modern era things that we can correct . . . or is it too late?’ What is clear is Smiley's commitment to her craft. For her, it's not about the awards. It's about the work.” —Paul Freeman, San Jose Mercury News
“Monumental . . . phenomenally powerful. Smiley has a remarkable grip on all her characters. Comparisons have already been made with John Updike’s towering Rabbit tetralogy, and both writers have an extraordinary ability to define what it is to be American at the most intimate level. But where Updike is the consummate stylist, Smiley speaks more plainly; where he is cool, she is warm. She is also very funny, and too finely intelligent to stoop to folksiness . . . In fact, what Smiley feels most like here—for her faultless skills in bringing a wide cast so vividly into being that we would know them anywhere; for the remarkable intensity of her feeling for territory and landscape; and her combination of impatient intellect, emotional perspicacity and unfailing humanity—is America’s Tolstoy . . . The satisfactions of the first two volumes of this trilogy have been so complex and nourishing that the third installment can’t come soon enough.” —Christobel Ken, The Guardian (UK)
“The quietly great Jane Smiley takes a very different tack to telling a story. [This] second volume, opens in 1953. This is a world of women with big hair who smoke while breastfeeding. You’ll recognise them and their homes and their whiskydrinking husbands from Mad Men, of which this is the epic literary cousin . . . Having such an extensive cast of characters could be confusing, but Smiley is a writer who, in a long career spanning work in almost every genre, has always made sure the reader is having a good time . . She narrate[s] the great sweep of the ages as it really happened, in all its linked but disparate elements. She succeeds effortlessly and without tricks. The phrase ‘a great novelist at the height of her powers’ is so overused, but for once here it really is true: Smiley has a gentle touch and an audaciously limitless scope, and in combination these qualities allow her to do anything she likes.” —Melissa Katsoulis, The Times of London
“Utterly engaging . . . Early Warning continues the galloping chronological biography of a family and of the American century, year by year, child by child. They grow up, move away to Chicago, California, New York; they make money, change nappies, have sex and sweep the yard. Smiley covers most issues: therapy, homosexuality, cults, race, divorce, adultery and three decades of changing crops, gadgets, fashions, language and music. She doesn't judge. The dialogue is funny and real. The story rolls along . . . The point of all this seems to be, we live, we die, we're all equal. Early Warning is a masterpiece of quick and perfectly executed brushstrokes. When the trilogy is completed (this year) we'll have a major addition to the grand chronicle of American Life.” —Rosie Goldsmith, The Independent (UK)
“Opening with the 1953 funeral of patriarch Walter, Smiley follows the Langdon family introduced in Some Luck through its second and third generations . . . Smiley’s narrative web snares major postwar social changes [with] nicely specific details. Each of the large cast of characters has sharply individualized traits, and they are unfailingly interesting. The surprise appearance of a hitherto unsuspected relative reminds us [that] life and love are never perfect—they simply are. Strong storytelling will keep readers looking forward to the promised third volume.” —Kirkus
“Smiley has a big cast to wrangle in the second, atom-and-adultery-haunted volume of the ‘Last Hundred Years’ trilogy. Covering 1953 to 1986 at a clip of one year per chapter, the focus here is the Cold War and its fallout . . . Smiley keeps you reading; she is as deft as ever at conveying the ways in which a family develops.” —Publishers Weekly
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Top Customer Reviews
Early Warning picks up the story later in 1953 with the funeral of Walter Langdon, the family’s patriarch, and follows the same format by having a chapter for every year up to 1986. By now most of the Langdon children have scattered far and wide from their Iowa roots, and through them we experience the rest of the 1950’s, the Kennedy years, Viet Nam, the cultural upheavals of the 1960’s and 1970’s, a religious cult, and the wealth obsessed 1980’s. By the end some of the children of the original children have grown-up and gotten married. Readers interested in 20th century social history will find a lot to enjoy.
Smiley’s style is subtle, recounting sometimes quotidian events through the limited third person perspectives of most of her characters, often starting from when they are very young children. (And it’s an interesting thing to see the world through the eyes of a child.) Much of it is not high drama, but somehow it’s all very compelling and I was completely drawn into the story. It’s fascinating to watch a child grow to an adult, and Smiley held my interest in part by making what, to me, were sometimes surprising choices for her characters, but they were paths that in the end almost all felt plausible and fitting.
By the time the family has gotten to Early Warning there are so many characters it would be hard to keep track of them, but fortunately there’s a family tree at the front of the book that I ended up flipping to more than once.Read more ›
Ironically, and fortunately for me, I felt at the time, I had registered to attend the Orange County Literary Woman's Conference in May and Jane Smiley was to be the keynote speaker. How exciting! Right in between the 1st book of her new trilogy and the release of the second a chance to hear Ms. Smiley speak seemed like such a privilege. She arrived comically disheveled and apparently embarrassingly unprepared to speak to her crowd of readers. She rambled on for 45 minutes or so about nothing of interest and didn't even mention her new books. I was bereft with disappointment...but trudged forward with "Early Warning".
I would give anything to have enjoyed this book. I did not. It is 447 pages long and it seemed like there were 447 characters to keep track of. The family tree printed in the beginning of the text is useless for Kindle readers.Read more ›
Until, that is, her next book comes out and we say: "Of course! How could I NOT put her on the list... on the TOP of the list?"
Perhaps it's because what she does, she does better than anybody, and with such grace and ease (No, I'm not saying it's easy. She makes it LOOK easy... which is NOT EASY) that we just take the whole experience for granted.
Like sunshine or rain.
Which is only to say that ANY Smiley book is a major treat.
Her best books are awe inspiring.
And, when faced with her magnum opus, we can do nothing but stare in wonder and gratitude.
With "Some Luck", Smiley announced her intention to do nothing less than trace the history of our country throughout the 20th century in a trilogy of works.
That first book brought us to the mid-50s, essentially
"Early Warning" takes us from 1953 to the mid-80s (and, just for the record, you needn't have read the first book to be floored by this one)
"Some Luck" was Smiley's best work.
"Early Warning" is better
The book covers the years from 1953 to 1986, one chapter per year. It begins with a funeral, and there are others throughout the book, along with weddings,plus references to topical events. Kent State? President Reagan? Jim Jones? The author tries to keep us grounded in time, and in that she mostly succeeds.
My main issue with the book emerged on the first page, back in 1953, when approximately 20 family members were mentioned in the space of a few paragraphs. The printed copy includes a multi-tiered family tree with 70 names, and I found myself frequently referring to those two pages. Many of the characters who play key roles in the book are not family members, and I started reading with a pen in hand so that I could annotate the tree as needed. I don't know how you could get through this on an e-reader.
The book flits around from stereotypical family member to family member: the skirt-chaser, the alcoholic, the closeted gay guy, the abused wife. We read about them, their friends, their children (some of whom are also key characters) and one mystery child who keeps appearing in short segments and isn't explained until the end. (He's not on the family tree, so don't waste time looking there.) Every time I found myself enjoying a particular story line, Smiley would yank the narrative rug away and send me off to visit another relative.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Why oh why does Ms. Smiley start off clutching her readers than along the way, being to lesson her grip? I alway get hooked then am sorry that I did.... Read morePublished 2 days ago by G. Hearty
This was a dnf for me. There were so many characters, I couldn't keep track of who they were, but even worse, it kept the story from being cohesive. Read morePublished 16 days ago by Mjeanp
I loved this book. Occasionally I had the unsettling feeling Ms Smiley had been invisibly witnessing my childhood, family & hometown. Read morePublished 18 days ago by Amazon Customer
Early Warning is not a fast nor easy read. It plods along picking up pace as the reader becomes more and more familiar with the numerous cast of characters. Read morePublished 18 days ago by Mark Twain "Lou"
It was an excellent continuation of the 1st book in the the last 100 year trilogy... I feel like I have known this family all my life.Published 29 days ago by Tamara Schwartz
Wonderful continuation of the history of the fascinating families in this trilogy. As an Australian who lived through some of the years covered, l loved the American families... Read morePublished 29 days ago by lili brunsdon
All of Jane Smileys books are great reading. Early warning is 2nd in a family trilogy. Recommend you read all threePublished 1 month ago by Amazon Customer
too much time had lapsed since the first part of the Trilogy so trying to remember all the characters, their relationship with one another, their unique phobias was trying. Read morePublished 1 month ago by Avid Reader