tI read a lot of books, as reading fiction is one of my favorite hobbies. Every once in a while, one book hits me to where I want to share my thoughts. The Last Hundred Year trilogy is actually three books that did just that!
I make great use of our public library, and I keep tabs on new books that they get through an RSS feed that gets updated whenever they get something in. I’ll take a look, and will mark the book for a read if it looks interesting enough (and often, I’ll check Goodreads to see what other readers think).
About a year ago, a book appeared that I knew I’d like, called Some Luck by Jane Smiley. It was the first book in a trilogy that she was releasing over the course of about a year that would chronicle a family over the course of 100 years, which happened to be 1920-2019. Yes, the book goes ‘into the future’ but I’ll cover that at the proper time.
I was intrigued, the ratings for the book were good, and as she’s an accomplished author, it looked great. I’ve recently completed the trilogy, and thought it was interesting enough to post a review, breaking down the review by each book.
The book starts off with Walter and Rosanna, the patriarch and matriarch of the Langdon family. The story started with them settling into their newly acquired farm in Iowa in 1920. Every chapter covers one year, and each ‘year’ is told from the view of individual characters. This early, many of the chapters are concentrated with just one person, but as the family tree expands, multiple perspectives can often be found within one chapter.
The bottom line is that I love this book. The book talks about life on the farm, which is always of interest to me as I envision a ‘simpler time’, and keeps things interwoven with major events of the time, such as the Great Depression and World War II.
We’re introduced to their children as they are born, and we get to see them start to grow up and make their way in the world. By the end of the book, which is now in the early 1950’s, most of the storytelling has shifted to the ‘2nd generation’ as many of them grow up and start to make their mark across the country. This generation starts expanding the scope from beyond the farm and the town which it resides, which is very representative of the times.
This was a great book and I was extremely excited for more.
The second book opens after a major event took place at the end of the first book, which definitely puts the shift squarely on the 2nd generation. The book focuses on Walter and Rosanna’s children, and of course, the next generation is introduced as the characters age.
The 2nd generation is probably the most impactful of the entire trilogy, since they’re the only generation that spans across all three novels. You really feel that you’re getting to know these characters more so than any other ones, so this is a very enjoyable novel.
Most of the Langdon family turns out to be very successful, and again, the different events of the times are interwoven into the storyline, through the story is really very character driven.
By the time the third generation is fully ‘populated’, if you will, the number of characters to keep track of has grown substantially. There is a family tree in the front of each book, and at about mid-way through the 2nd book, you often have to go back and reference what lineage a character might be part of, especially, as is often the case, several chapters might go by between having a character in focus.
At the end of the book, we’ve hit the late 1980’s and since that’s the time where I really became aware of the world from a ‘big picture’ perspective, it’s really cool to read this story and having a point of reference from the time and what was going on.
The storytelling was great, though with all the extra characters, it made it more difficult to ‘bond’ with the characters. Still, I became very excited to see how things wrapped up.
This book wraps up the 100 years, going through present time (2015 as that’s when the book was released). It even extended out four years into the future.
As I said before, I was really excited to see how things turned out. I really wanted to like this book. I wanted to love it. But as you can maybe guess from me saying that, I didn’t.
I knew that the 2nd generation would be phased out and that the 3rd and even 4th generations would be the focus. That happened, but the main problem is that the characters became even less relate able and more unlikeable.
The main bit of disappointment was that, as soon as the book moved into the 21st century, the family and their actions went from the primary focus to the secondary focus. What became the primary focus, then?
Around the turn of the century, every character became focused on politics, to the point where it was distracting. The author obviously leans very much liberal. While I have no problem with this, I found her insertion of her beliefs very distracting. Up until this point, her characters were multi-dimensional. You could have a character that did bad things but still be written as a ‘good’ person, or vice versa. Once Bush v. Gore took place, that went right out the window. Characters were either good (Democrat) or bad (Republicans).
And, the level of this went to the point of absurdity. At one point a couple was planning a winter vacation so that they could go somewhere warm. The characters looked Florida as an option but they rejected it. Why? Because Rick Scott was the governor.
Now, I’ve been politically minded about various things in the past. I know people that are fiercely political. Yet as cuckoo as I’ve seen people get about their politics, this was crazy. I’ve never seen someone write off a potential trip because they don’t like the governor of the state.
Yet, this is how it is in this book. And, it’s not just a couple of passionate characters. Nope, it’s pretty much every one.
While reading through the first 80-85 years, I wondered why she wrote a few years of future time. Once the book turned to politics, I suspected I had my answer. I think she wanted a platform to stand up and preach her platform. And that’s exactly what happened.
All in all, this was a very disappointing conclusion to the series, and the shift was unnecessary.
Rating Each Book In The Last Hundred Year Trilogy
Some Luck: 5 Stars (out of 5)
Early Warning: 4 Stars
Golden Age: 2 Stars
In summary, I would definitely recommend this series if you like fiction and the living history genre. However, I would advise skipping anything past 1999.