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Jane Smiley's 'Early Warning' continues her family trilogy

'Early Warning' is the second in Smiley's planned series about a family living in America during the 20th century and is a sequel to her critically acclaimed book 'Some Luck.'

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    'Early Warning' is by Jane Smiley.
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A sequel to Jane Smiley’s critically acclaimed novel “Some Luck” is hitting bookstores.

“Early Warning,” which is released today, is the second in Smiley’s series about the Langdon family. The books follow family members through the decades of American history. Smiley’s first book in the series, “Some Luck,” begins in the 1920s with patriarch Walter and matriarch Rosanna. “Some Luck” was released this past October. “Early Warning,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning author’s second book, opens in the 1950s. Walter and Rosanna’s children are now adults, and their own children will go on to experience the turbulent 1960s and 1970s. 

The Monitor named "Some Luck" as one of the best books of the month when it was released last fall. Critic Heller McAlpin wrote of “Some Luck” for the Barnes & Noble Review, “Fans of old-fashioned family sagas featuring historical sweep are in – ahem – some luck…. ‘Some Luck’ occasionally succumbs to a plodding “and-then” syndrome. But the book’s pace quickens in the war scenes, and the writing positively soars with Smiley’s description of Rosanna’s reflections during a Thanksgiving gathering in 1948…. This perfectly written scene, the climax and beating heart of ‘Some Luck,’ captures the payoff, the sudden moments of grace that can astonish and melt even the most exhausted, unsentimental parents – and readers.”

“Some Luck” made the longlist for the National Book Award for fiction.

Now reviews for “Early Warning” are coming in. McAlpin wrote about “Early Warning” for NPR and noted that “it's a challenge to keep everyone straight…. Smiley throws a lot at us in the opening chapters…. But as Smiley continues her year-by-year march – remarkably, never a slog – through the twentieth century, we're pulled into her characters' absorbing dramas…. so many benchmarks are mentioned in passing that 'Early Warning' occasionally feels like a flipbook of history-on-the-fly. Fortunately, Smiley's sharp details … help pinpoint changing times with more than just landmark events. The novel's cumulative power lies in the unfolding lives of characters who share a home base and DNA…. Smiley's signature achievement in this by turns wry and wise old-fashioned yarn is her skill at deftly shifting focus between the long and short views.” 

Meanwhile, Ellen Akins of the Minneapolis Star Tribune called the book “Dickensian in its breadth and detail," although adding that "the novel is distinctly un-Dickensian in its sense of purpose – or lack thereof. It reflects a distinctly modern understanding of life – and fiction – as unplotted except in the direction and shape that each character, in uneasy alliance with chance, chooses and views as a meaningful pattern … among the daily maneuvers and mundane details the arc of [Smiley’s] narrative lifts us, and we see for an instant how anything might happen.”

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