Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Some Luck by Jane Smiley

Our book club read Some Luck by Jane Smiley for December. I have mixed feelings about this book, so if this post seems a bit muddled, it's because explaining my feelings are complicated.

The book has an interesting structure. Every chapter represents a year in the life of an Iowan family, starting in 1920 and going through the mid-1950s. It's told in third person, but switches from character to character. 

Here's where it gets confusing for me. The individual vignettes from individual chapters could be interesting and I still find myself thinking about them, a couple of weeks after I've finished this book, but the whole book was a frustrating, sometimes dull, read.  My husband's family is from Iowa and I'm definitely interested in the historical details of Midwest farming, but the author flits from character to character, neither developing the characters themselves or their relationships. In book club, I actually asked if the husband and wife had a single conversation in the entire novel that didn't discuss children or farming. 

And don't get me started on the chapters that were told from the point of view of the infant and toddler. I...can't.  I...don't care. 

I did enjoy the historical details.  The farm was hardly impacted by the Great Depression because they were so poor. The oldest son enlists as soon as Pearl Harbor happens.  Russians spies! Again, there were some powerful scenes. If this book had been sold to me as a series of short short stories, I would probably be telling you how amazing it could be with some editing of the less awesome short shorts. But it wasn't enough to make up for the consistently inconsistent narration and it wasn't enough to hold together as a novel.

So make of that what you will. This was the first novel in a trilogy and I definitely will not be joining Smiley on the rest of that journey.  And I probably won't pick up another Smiley book again, despite the deep well to choose from.

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