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Golden Age: Book summary and reviews of Golden Age by Jane Smiley

Golden Age

A Last Hundred Years: a Family Saga Novel

by Jane Smiley

Golden Age by Jane Smiley X
Golden Age by Jane Smiley
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  • Published Oct 2015
    464 pages
    Genre: Literary Fiction

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Book Summary

From the winner of the Pulitzer Prize: the much-anticipated final volume, following Some Luck and Early Warning , of her acclaimed American trilogy - a richly absorbing new novel that brings the remarkable Langdon family into our present times and beyond.

A lot can happen in one hundred years, as Jane Smiley shows to dazzling effect in her Last Hundred Years trilogy. But as Golden Age, its final installment, opens in 1987, the next generation of Langdons face economic, social, political - and personal - challenges unlike anything their ancestors have encountered before.

Michael and Richie, the rivalrous twin sons of World War II hero Frank, work in the high-stakes world of government and finance in Washington and New York, but they soon realize that one's fiercest enemies can be closest to home; Charlie, the charming, recently found scion, struggles with whether he wishes to make a mark on the world; and Guthrie, once poised to take over the Langdons' Iowa farm, is instead deployed to Iraq, leaving the land - ever the heart of this compelling saga - in the capable hands of his younger sister.

Determined to evade disaster, for the planet and her family, Felicity worries that the farm's once-bountiful soil may be permanently imperiled, by more than the extremes of climate change. And as they enter deeper into the twenty-first century, all the Langdon women - wives, mothers, daughters - find themselves charged with carrying their storied past into an uncertain future.

Combining intimate drama, emotional suspense, and a full command of history, Golden Age brings to a magnificent conclusion the century-spanning portrait of this unforgettable family - and the dynamic times in which they've loved, lived, and died: a crowning literary achievement from a beloved master of American storytelling.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Starred Review. Smiley's cantering, far-reaching, yet intimate trilogy is both timely in the issues it so astutely raises ... and timeless in the rapture of its storytelling and the humanness of its insights into family, self, and our connection to the land. Readers will be reading, and rereading, Smiley's Last Hundred Years far into the next." - Booklist

"A fitting conclusion to the trilogy, leaving readers wondering what the future holds in store for the once united but now far-flung family." - Library Journal

"What lingers with readers aren't the encounters with marquee historical events (Clinton's sex scandals; 9/11) but Smiley's detailed depiction of the kaleidoscopic geometries of family, as the Langdons spiral out from Iowa into the larger world, endlessly fracturing and coming back together." - Publishers Weekly

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

This information about Golden Age was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. Publication information is for the USA, and (unless stated otherwise) represents the first print edition. The reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that they do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, send us a message with the mainstream reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

Reader Reviews

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Cathryn Conroy

This Three-Book Family Saga Is Truly the Great American Novel
The power of this book—as well as the other two books that comprise this gripping family saga trilogy—is the wisdom, compassion, and human insight of Jane Smiley's imaginative story arc.

This is the 100-year story of the Langdon family. Each chapter is titled with a year, covering 1920 to 1952 in the first book, "Some Luck," from 1953 to 1986 in "Early Warning," and from 1987 to 2019 in "Golden Age."

Rosanna and Walter Langdon had six children from 1919 to 1939, which means the family tree has greatly expanded its branches by the end of the 20th century. The children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren live not only on the farm in Denby, Iowa where it all started, but also New York City, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Palo Alto, and San Francisco. While this puts them in the center of the action for political and current events, the book is far more about the minutiae of life—the hopes, heartbreak, and dreams of human existence that define who we are as individuals and where we fit into a family.

A Disappointment: Since everything that happens to the characters right from the first page of the first book is mirrored by corresponding current events of that year, Jane Smiley took a leap of faith by publishing this book in October 2015 (and presumably finishing the writing as much as year earlier) but still continuing the story through 2019. Beginning with the 2016 chapter, she creates current events that didn't happen from a president who was not actually elected to international skirmishes that are figments of her imagination. She was writing about an unknown future. It was disappointing to me in that it violated the basic premise she herself created at the beginning of the series—for the life of one American family to reflect the current events of the time. She should have waited the five years to publish the third volume or stopped the story in 2015. (Even so, it's still a five-star book.)

Two pieces of advice:
No. 1: You absolutely must read the books in order or they won't make sense. This really should have been one book. If you start with the second or third book, it's like starting halfway through a novel. It will be very confusing.

No. 2: The Langdon family tree is quite complex. Bookmark that page so you can easily refer to it later. If you are reading this on a Kindle, here is the most efficient way to figure out the characters: Search the name of the character (and first name is enough). The first search result you'll get is on the family tree. Go there. That puts you right where you need to be within the multipage family tree so you don't have to hunt. I was still doing this 70 percent into the story! THAT is how complex these relationships are.

This is an extraordinary family saga that almost serves as a mini-history of the United States, as well as quite the writing achievement for Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jane Smiley. When you view all three of the books as one, it truly is the Great American Novel.

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Author Information

Jane Smiley Author Biography

Jane Smiley is the author of numerous novels, including A Thousand Acres, which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize, and the Last Hundred Years Trilogy: Some Luck, Early Warning, and Golden Age. She is the author as well of several works of nonfiction and books for young adults. A member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, she has also received the PEN Center USA Lifetime Achievement Award for Literature. She lives in Northern California.

Author Interview

Other books by Jane Smiley at BookBrowse
  • Some Luck jacket

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