This is how my reading whims work. Sometimes something totally random, like a visit to a historical home, will set me off. So yesterday when I was immersing myself into Nebraska history ca. late-1800s, taking in the architecture, the clothing, the furniture and even the modes of transportation I was building in my mind a story. This one based on a real family that I can technically read about, but I almost always tend towards fiction. So, it is a story I want. One about an American family living at the beginning of the last century and if they happen to be here in the Midwest all the better.
Funny you should mention it. Purely by chance (or are there ever really chances in reading--maybe all my paths were leading here anyway?), I had just picked up Jane Smiley's Some Luck, which is the first volume in her Last Hundred Years trilogy. I have a confession to make. I have never read anything by Jane Smiley. I own books by her, and I think at one point I even tried to read Greenlanders (but failed, though I still have my copy). But the time seems right, I am in the mood, and I plan on making a concerted effort to stick with the story and read it through (all hundred years, too).
The first book, Some Luck, begins in 1921 and is set on a farm in Iowa. Close enough in time and certainly in locale. This is a family of immigrants, at least a generation or two back. Walter and Rosanna Langdon are a young couple with a baby boy, Frank. Interestingly some of the story is told from Frank's perspective--his three year old perspective. I wasn't entirely sure about this, and I think the story will shift to different perspectives. I am only a couple of years into the century so there is lots in store for me, but I like the idea of this family's life, these lives, stretching out in front of me. One war is over and another is somewhere on the horizon. There is a family tree at the start of the book that reaches down into the lives of Walter and Rosanna's great grandchildren.
This is a big, chunky book, but not so epic in its reach (at least from my reading so far) that it will be unwieldy. This is and has been my year of tackling authors I 'mean to read' so I am excited about this journey. A little teaser to set the tone and give you a picture in your mind of Rosanna and Walter:
"When you looked at Rosanna, you didn't think she'd been raised on a farm, had farms all through her background, even in Germany. She was blonde, but slender and perfectly graceful, and when she praised the baby's beauty, she did so without seeming to realize that t reproduced her own. Walter had seen that in some lines of cows--the calves looked stamped out by a cookie cutter, and even the way they turned their heads or kicked their hind feet into the air was the same as last year's calf and the one before that. Walter's family was a mix, as his grandfather would say--Langdons, but with some of those long-headed ones from the Borders, with red hair, and then some of those dark-haired Irish from Wexford that were supposed to trace back to the sailors from the Spanish Armada, and some tall balding ones who always needed glasses from around Glasgow. His mother's side leavened all these with her Wessex ancestry ('The Chicks and the Cheeks,' she'd always said), but you couldn't tell that Walter's relatives were related the way you could with Rosanna's. Even so, all of Rosanna's aunts and uncles and cousins, the Augsburgers and the Vogels, Rosanna was the most beautiful, and that was why he had set his heart upon winning her when he came home from the war and finally really noticed her, though she went to the Catholic Church. The Langdon and Vogel farms weren't far apart--no more than a mile--but even in a small town like Denby, no one had much to say to folks who went to other churches and, it must be said, spoke different languages at home."
Doesn't that description just scream for the reader to slow down in order to take it all in. Such detail. This seems like book that could easily be read again and you discover something new.
I did read some very good short stories over the weekend, by the way, which I plan on sharing tomorrow.