The backstory: Early Warning is the second installment in Jane Smiley's Langdon family trilogy. I enjoyed the first installment, Some Luck.
The basics: Each of these novels cover thirty-three years, with each chapter covering a year. Early Warning begins in 1953 and ends in the 1980's.
My thoughts: I really enjoyed Some Luck, but I didn't always love King's narration. I planned to read this one instead of listen to it, but I'm so glad I decided to listen instead. King's narration improved in this installment, and her different voices helped me re-acclimate to this large family. I'm often leery of audiobooks longer than twelve hours, but I breezed through this one. On a personal note, there's something enchanting about listening to an Iowa family saga while driving around Iowa with my baby in the car. One character in this volume lives very near Hawthorne's day care.
It took me a few chapters to get re-invested in some of the Langdons. For whatever reason, some characters resonated more with me, and others I had forgotten. Once I got my bearings, however, I listened at every opportunity. In Early Warning, I found myself gravitating to different characters over time. Because Smiley devotes only one chapter to each year, not every character appears each year, and some have bigger moments in some years than others. As time passes, I noticed I most enjoy the generational tipping points--when the children become teenagers and start to leave home.
Smiley includes some beautiful moments of surprise in this novel. In between listening times, I found myself remembering old characters and wondering if and when they might reappear or be mentioned. In this way, Early Warning mimics life. We don't know when old friends and old loves might reappear in our lives in surprising ways over time. While some of those reunions are joyous, others are not--but in fiction, they sure are fun to experience.
The verdict: I liked Early Warning even more than Some Luck, partially because Some Luck set the stage. As time passes, the Langdon family grows and stretches out across the country in fascinating ways. It's sobering to remember it all began on a small, Iowa farm in 1920.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 18 hours 11 minutes (496 pages)
Publication date: April 28, 2015
Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Early Warning from Amazon (Kindle edition.)
Want more? Golden Age, the final volume in this trilogy, comes out October 20. Pre-order it today from Amazon (Kindle edition.) I've already reserved the audio at the library, and I'll be listening to the final installment too.
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