cover image Golden Age

Golden Age

Jane Smiley. Knopf, $26.95 (464p) ISBN 978-0-307-70034-6

A lot can happen over a hundred years, as Smiley shows in her chronicle of the Langdon family. The first two volumes, Some Luck and Early Warning, took the family from 1919 to 1986; Golden Age completes the trilogy by bringing them to the present, and beyond. As the book opens in 1987, family members are back at the Iowa farmstead to meet a new addition to the clan, a child whose existence was long hidden. But in some ways the bigger event that year is the stock market crash, from which the perpetually angry Michael (son of cold warrior Frank, grandson of farmer Walter) emerges wealthy. The first generation of Langdons survived drought and the Depression, the next prospered in the postwar boom, but now money takes center stage, moving faster and less traceably, enriching some and bankrupting others. The title, readers come to suspect, is an ironic reference to the Gilded Age, another era of boom, bust, and shady dealings; any golden glow is gone when Smiley moves into the future to complete the trilogy’s century span. Unfortunately, 2016 to 2019 feels bare-bones dystopian—less water, more violence. 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. (Oct.)