Pulitzer Prize winner Jane Smiley has done it: she has written a resonant multi-generational saga that brings a century brilliantly to life. ‘Golden Age’ is the final – and eagerly anticipated – volume of her trilogy that is destined to become a true American classic.
As in the earlier volumes, “Some Luck” and “Early Warning,” Smiley fills her canvas with the Langdon clan of Iowa. Their portraits provide the telling details of the sea change that the nation has undergone in the past hundred years – and that Smiley suspects will occur in the very near future.
“Golden Age” picks up in 1987, just where “Early Warning” left off. Charlie Wickett, the surprise son of Tim, who’d died in Vietnam, and grandson of Lillian and Arthur, has come to Iowa to meet the family. His uncle Henry, the medievalist, thought “he fit right in.”
In the years that follow, the next generation of Langdons will experience social, cultural and political challenges that will take them from the halls of Congress to the battlefields of Iraq, from the shocking tragedy of 9/11 to the dawning realities of climate change and the heartbreaking toll of the AIDS epidemic. The farm has always been at the heart of the family – it’s the place many of them return to – but that, too, will change in the “Golden Age” as the farm is eventually sold.
While Frank – a towering figure in the earlier volumes — dies in a freak accident early on, his presence continues to be felt throughout the book. His widow Andy remembers, as Smiley so beautifully writes:
“The brouhaha of Frank’s death had settled down, and she had come to understand her own reaction, that sense of fatality and almost relief. She had not cried, and had thought he would have been disappointed in her if she had cried. . . .Well, the lesson of almost sixty years with someone was that no one but you remembered that darling boy, the stranger walking toward you down Lincoln Way. . . .And so you turned and followed him back to Hayward, and stood beside him on that corner, and when he cocked his head to look you up and down, waiting ever so long to smile but finally doing it, it did not mean that you were beautiful, it meant that you had a chance, just a chance, to see this being again, to find out what was in there, and it didn’t matter what you found out, in the end, because no one on earth would ever flash through you and light you up like he did.”
Like its predecessors, “Golden Age” draws readers into the telling details of the personal and the public lives of the Langdons. Smiley’s masterful accomplishment is that she has the wit and wisdom to tell a story that is at once intimate and character-driven while being historically expansive. “Golden Age” is a fitting — and triumphant — conclusion to an unforgettable saga.
“Golden Age” is available at amazon.com and at your favorite New York bookstores.