Early Warning

Knopf. (Last Hundred Years Trilogy, Bk. 2). Apr. 2015. 496p. ISBN 9780307700322. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385352437. F
Continuing where 2014's Some Luck left off, this second work in the trilogy follows the complicated Langdon siblings after the death of patriarch Walter in 1955. Eldest son Frank is unhappily married to alcoholic Andy, who frets about her lack of maternal instinct. While Joe lingers on the Iowa farm with homely wife Lois, wondering what could have been, Lillian settles down with secretive Arthur, Claire hastily marries an older Paul, and everyone wonders why affable Henry is still a bachelor. Pulitzer Prize-winning Smiley (A Thousand Acres) paints pictures with her words, describing the intricacies of each character, even the unlikable, as the family steadily grows owing to marriages and births. As in Some Luck, each chapter here represents one year, with the Langdons reflecting on events of the 1960s and 1970s and warmhearted Lillian becoming the matriarch, uniting the disparate cousins. Although the narrative can be predictable at times, Smiley's beautifully descriptive writing compensates.
VERDICT Those new to this multigenerational saga should start with Some Luck. Those already familiar will be eager to continue with the inevitable conflicts among cousins and the appearance of an unexpected family member that await in the third volume. While Smiley's latest offering is not as captivating as the first installment, readers interested in a story well told will be satisfied. [See Prepub Alert, 2/12/15.]
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