Early Warning

Early Warning

3.1 15
by Jane Smiley

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One of the Best Books of the Year: San Francisco Chronicle

It’s 1953, and the Langdons are at a crossroads. Walter, their stalwart patriarch, has died unexpectedly, and his wife must try to keep their farm going. But of their five children, only one will remain to work the land. The others scatter to Washington, DC, California, and everywhere


One of the Best Books of the Year: San Francisco Chronicle

It’s 1953, and the Langdons are at a crossroads. Walter, their stalwart patriarch, has died unexpectedly, and his wife must try to keep their farm going. But of their five children, only one will remain to work the land. The others scatter to Washington, DC, California, and everywhere in between.

As the country moves into the Cold War, through the social revolutions of the ‘60s and ‘70s, and into the unprecedented wealth—for some—of the early ‘80s, the Langdon children have children of their own: twin boys who are best friends and vicious rivals; a girl whose rebellious spirit takes her to the notorious Peoples Temple in San Francisco; and a golden boy who drops out of college to fight in Vietnam—leaving behind a secret legacy. Capturing a transformative period through characters we come to know and love, this second volume in Jane Smiley's epic trilogy brings to life the challenges—and rewards—of family and home, even in the most turbulent of times.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Wondrous. . . . Mesmerizing. . . . Develops lives that are rich, mysterious and constantly changing.” —The Washington Post

“Dickensian in its breadth and detail. . . . Smiley is simply brilliant.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Heartbreaking. . . . Expansive yet intimate.” —The New York Times Book Review

“Superb. . . . [A] king-size American quilt of a novel.” —The New Yorker

“Wonderful. . . . Smiley poses large questions and offers powerful insights.” —San Francisco Chronicle

“Recalls Balzac’s Human Comedy, John Dos Passos’ U.S.A. trilogy and John Updike’s Rabbit quartet. . . . Leave[s] us looking forward to the finale of this epic endeavor.” —NPR

“Smiley’s brilliance is twofold. In telling the story of an American family, she unfurls the troubled trajectory of twentieth-century America.” —USA Today

 “Eloquent and poignant. . . . Smiley’s deft narrative hopping is as impressive as ever.” —Entertainment Weekly

“The second installment of Smiley’s Last Hundred Years trilogy follows the next generation of Langdons across a mid-twentieth century American panorama, evoking—with perceptiveness and sweep—the social revolutions that realign their fates.” —Vogue

“Engrossing. . . . Smiley captures the great heartland diaspora of the twentieth century. . . . Demonstrates what a novel, unique among all art forms, can do.” —The Dallas Morning News

“Phenomenally powerful. . . . What Smiley feels most like here, for her faultless skill in bringing a wide cast so vividly into being that we would know them anywhere, for the remarkable intensity of her feeling for territory and landscape and her combination of impatient intellect, emotional perspicacity and unfailing humanity, is America’s Tolstoy.” —The Guardian (London)

“The real magic of this novel is that which makes every Jane Smiley book a work of art, recognizably hers: the writing, the writing, the writing.” —Los Angeles Review of Books

“[An] intimate and exceptional exploration of American history through the eyes of an Iowa family. . . . Elegantly tuck[s] a busy century into three volumes full of life, humor and sharp observation.” —The Miami Herald

“Masterful.” —Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“Nuanced and intimate. . . . Capture[s] the feel and aesthetic of an American family. You meet the Langdons in Some Luck, but by the time you finish Early Warning, you’ll feel like you are one of them.” —Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

“Smiley is a master of characterization as well as language. . . . Images are so clear it’s hard to believe you’re not in the story yourself, and people are so well drawn you’d swear you know them personally.” —The New York Journal of Books

“Utterly engaging. . . .  Early Warning is a masterpiece of quick and perfectly executed brushstrokes.” —The Independent (London)

The New York Times Book Review - Roy Hoffman
Smiley's expansive yet intimate novel underscores how perceptions change from one family member to another…when the personal and the public match up…the narrative can be heartbreaking. The Langdon family is a vast, collective character unto itself—lovingly claustrophobic, emotionally interdependent, sending out ever more branches.
Publishers Weekly
Smiley has a big cast to wrangle in the second volume of the Last Hundred Years trilogy, which began with 2014’s Some Luck, and she starts this entry at the funeral of Walter, the Iowa farmer and paterfamilias of volume one. While the Langdons, scattered across New York, Chicago, and California, reunite, readers get a refresher on the family relationships. Covering 1953 to 1986 at a clip of one year per chapter, the focus here is the Cold War and its fallout. This material occasionally feels like the greatest hits of the post-WWII era, with Langdons brushing up against a Kennedy assassination, Jonestown, and Vietnam. And since the post-war baby boom means cousins by the dozens, the cast of characters isn’t as vivid and particular as it was in the knock-out first volume. Still, Smiley keeps you reading; as a writer she is less concerned about individual characters, but still as deft as ever at conveying the ways in which a family develops: some stories carrying on, while others fall away. This isn’t a series you can start in the middle, so pick up Some Luck, ride out the Depression and WWII with Walter, Rosanna, and Frank, then come back to the atom-and-adultery-haunted volume two. (May)
Library Journal
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.]—Stephanie Sendaula, Library Journal
Kirkus Reviews
Opening with the 1953 funeral of patriarch Walter, Smiley follows the Langdon family introduced in Some Luck (2014, etc.) through its second and third generations.Only steady second son Joe stayed home on the Iowa farm; he watches the land soar in value during the 1970s, though the farmer fatalism he inherited from Walter is justified when crop prices tank in the '80s. Brilliant, predatory older brother Frank rises through the Manhattan business world while wife Andy raises their kids on automatic pilot, devoting her principal energies to psychoanalysis and worrying about nuclear war. Lillian has the happiest marriage among the siblings, though husband Arthur's employment at the CIA provokes several crises of conscience. Observing them all in her customary critical spirit, widowed Rosanna cautiously expands her horizons, learning to drive and paying a visit to youngest son Henry, a gay academic, in Chicago. His sister Claire finally dumps her husband in 1979, after years of never talking back. "He had failed to pass the test," she judges, "not daring to recognize that all was changed." Smiley's narrative web snares almost every major postwar social change, and inevitably there are some generic touches: One member of the third generation is killed in Vietnam, another gets involved with Jim Jones' Peoples Temple. Such boilerplate is generally redeemed with nicely specific details, as when Andy imagines the impending nuclear apocalypse to be something like the Ragnarök envisioned by her Norse forebears. Each of the large cast of characters has sharply individualized traits, and though we're seldom emotionally wrapped up in their experiences—Smiley has never been the warmest of writers—they are unfailingly interesting. The surprise 1986 appearance of a hitherto unsuspected relative prompts a semiconfrontation between Arthur and resentful daughter Debbie that reminds us life and love are never perfect—they simply are. Sags a bit, as trilogy middle sections often do, but strong storytelling and a judicious number of loose ends will keep most readers looking forward to the promised third volume.

Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
Last Hundred Years Trilogy Series , #2
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.10(d)

Read an Excerpt

Frank did not haunt Front Street and Maiden Lane; he circled it, wending here and there, his eye always peeled. He had the time—he’d given up the whoring and the flying and practically everything else. He told Andy that he had taken up golf, and was planning to join a country club but hadn’t decided which one, so he was visiting all of them. He even bought a set of clubs and kept them in the trunk of his Chrysler. But he didn’t drive the Chrysler anywhere near the Knickerbocker. He zipped over the GW Bridge, down the West Side Highway, then left on Canal Street. Then he parked in a lot near China-town, and started walking. Sometimes he walked first toward the river and then south (southwest—his inner compass was still accurate). Other times, he walked down Pearl Street or Gold Street, scanning the passing women.

He saw her twice in the first week in March. Both times, she was wearing the black coat. He followed her at a distance, taking note not only of where she went and which buildings she frequented, but also of whom she spoke to, whether any men walked along with her or picked her up (they did not), and whom she greeted. The first afternoon, he followed her for an hour and never got closer than half a block. The second time, she went into that same brick building after thirty–seven minutes. He needed a plan.

Events at the office interfered for a while. Friskie got drunk and slapped the Sulzberger cousin in the street outside the Waldorf after a dance—it got into the papers; the girl broke the engagement; Dave Courtland said high time, she was a Jew; and Frank had to fly down to Galveston and talk not only to Dave, but to the wife, Anna. It took seventeen days to work out a reconciliation, and the Sulzberger parents were not happy, but, on the other hand, they had not heard the “Jew” comment, and Friskie was a very, very handsome young man. Then the head of the Venezuela office, Jesús De La Garza, came for a visit, and he was in New York for seven days and out in Southampton for a long weekend. After he left, Jim Upjohn told Frank, he tacked a note to the door of the room Jesús stayed in that read, “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the going of the Lord.”

The gift was that Frank was sitting at a table in the White Horse Tavern, and he saw her through the window. She passed the outside tables, came in, sat down nearby, and pulled out a copy of The Atlantic Monthly. Her coat was a slender trench, two years out of style. When she pushed her scarf back, he saw she had short, thick hair now, dark with scattered gray streaks, but neatly cut. She was fuller in the bust than she’d been during the war, and had just the beginnings of a belly, though she was neatly girdled. As she read, two wrinkles formed between her eyebrows, and her mouth thinned a bit, though her lips were still fuller than most women’s. She ordered a sherry and kept reading. He squinted: it was an article entitled “Anyone Can Play the Harmonica.” This was true, in Frank’s experience, so he was surprised that there would be an article about it.

She must have sensed him looking over her shoulder, because she glanced in his direction and gave him one of those little smiles. He said, “Do I know you?”

“I don’t think so.” Her accent was very good, just an underlying melody of the Mediterranean.

Then he said, “May I know you?”

This time she laughed, and it was the same laugh he remembered, merry and deep, the laugh of a woman with plenty of experience.

“I come from a long line of harmonica players.”

“Is that possible?” said the woman.

Right then, Frank knew that his fate depended upon pretending that he had never met her before, to collude in the idea that he believed she was from Queens or Rome or wherever she wanted to be from. What people had done to survive the war was their own business, was it not? He smiled, knowing that his smile was still hypnotic if he really meant it. “My brother is a farmer in Iowa who makes harmonicas by hand, from roots and branches.”

She did laugh. She did.

They chatted for an hour, exchanging only names—hers was Lydia Forêt—but nothing about occupations or background. Button by button, she removed her coat. He took it from her and hung it on the coat rack. She was wearing a navy-blue sheath with a slender red belt. Frank took off his own jacket and loosened his tie. They discussed whether the humidity had gotten worse and the likelihood of a storm. Others were talking about Carol Burnett, who had won an Emmy the night before, so they did, too. “She’s funny,” said Frank. The woman said, “She’ll do anything. I like that.” Then she reddened a little and said, “For a laugh, I mean. I saw her do a show a few years ago somewhere around here, I think.” Frank said that he had seen Nichols and May on Broadway the previous year. The woman said that she had a ticket for My Fair Lady, and she was looking forward to seeing it. Frank said that he knew some people who had gone to the opening night of that. There was a pause in the conversation, and Frank said, “So—can anyone play the harmonica?”

“I guess this gentleman did.” She glanced at the page. “Herbert Kupferberg. In between watching Tannhäuser and Mozart, he taught himself to play ‘Taps.’ ” She glanced at her wristwatch and moved her feet. Frank stood up and fetched her coat. Then she stood, and he held it for her. He said, “I would like to talk with you again.”

She smiled. It was that same smile from eighteen years ago, sunny, retreating. She said, “Perhaps we shall run into each other.” She shook his hand, then turned and walked briskly through the White Horse Tavern door and click–click down Hudson Street. When she turned her head to look at something, Frank felt ravished and limp.

Excerpted from Early Warning by Jane Smiley. Copyright © 2015 by Jane Smiley. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Meet the Author

Jane Smiley is the author of numerous novels, including A Thousand Acres, which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize, and most recently, Some Luck, the first volume of The Last Hundred Years trilogy, long-listed for the National Book Award. She is also the author of five works of nonfiction and a series of books for young adults. A member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, she has also received the PEN Center USA Lifetime Achievement Award for Literature. She lives in Northern California.

Brief Biography

Northern California
Date of Birth:
September 26, 1949
Place of Birth:
Los Angeles, California
B.A. in English, Vassar College, 1971; M.A., Iowa University, 1975; M.F.A, 1976; Ph.D., 1978

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Early Warning: A novel 3.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 15 reviews.
KegPA More than 1 year ago
I thought the story got too complicated because there were so many characters. A family tree was provided but it was annoying to have to keep referring back to that. I had read "Some Luck" and thought I'd enjoy this book more since I was already familiar with the characters but so many children, grandchildren, etc. were introduced that it was hard to follow. I would have preferred more story details and more in depth descriptions on a fewer number of characters. I will probably not read the third book in this series.
acAC More than 1 year ago
Life on the farm... very good read. I currently live in a farming community and this book gives one a real glimmer of what life was like then and still is for so many farmers. I really enjoyed this book.
crossword69 More than 1 year ago
Too many characters that after 200 pages still did not coalesce.  Then add in random sex scenes. This book does not exhibit Ms. Smiley's talent. I'm unsure why. Don't waste your money or your time.
cowsr4me2 More than 1 year ago
I love a series! This one has not disappointed! A family saga that I will be sad to see end.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Even though I called the "surprise ending" about mid way through the book, I still really enjoyed the story. There are a lot of characters but also a lot of character development. I am looking forward to the last of the trilogy.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Characters are all interesting but i doubt i will be able to remember all of them by tthe time the final book is out in october
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
YoyoMitch More than 1 year ago
The Langdon Family has entered the Nuclear Age when we rejoin their One-Hundred Year path. The year is 1953, the Korean War is stirring, Russia and the USA are hoping the other will collapse, both are making plans of how to speed up that process and America is experiencing a historic economic and population explosion. The five surviving Langdon children (Frank, Joe, Lillian, Henry, Claire and their mother Rosanna) are scattered from the Iowa farmstead to San Francisco to New York City; most with their spouses and children, all learning to prosper and figure out their lives. As the “Nuclear ‘50’s” evolve into the Age of Aquarius (1960’s) these sound, hard-working, deeply valued (although what each sibling values varies from one to the other) folk see all they “know” questioned and learn to question themselves. Such self-examination strengthens some, cause others to “wake-up” and, for others, is reason to become more deeply entrenched in “how things should be.” There is a war in Southeast Asia, a war that is unpopular and wars often require the cost of beloved lives. Such turmoil was the seed bed of the ‘70’s. When the “Hippies” outgrew the idea of “Flower Power,” peace marches and realized every (drug) trip had a destination not always of choice, the culture became one of wealth seeking and the Langdon’s were in the thick of such pursuits. The oil “shortage,” farm bankruptcies and market spikes were the sea upon which this family, and the nation, surfed into the 1980’s.  The book ends in much the same way as did the first in the Trilogy – the family gathering to celebrate the life of one of them. Ms. Smiley has taken on the daunting task of writing the history of America as it became a super-power and is doing so with apparent ease. In the first book, those of us reared in an Agrarian Culture can easily relate to the struggles, uncertain future of living through the depression. Our close relatives served in World War II and accepted the mindset that sent “The Greatest Generation” to fight such a war. The second book is focused on the babies born during the “Boom” after WWII. I remember the conflicts (racial, cultural, financial, and religious) that were common in the ‘60’s. I lived during the onset of the Big Business worldview, the Age of Aquarius settling into the hangover of high interest rates, Sexually Transmitted Diseases that are incurable and the greatest music ever produced that was the 1970’s. Ms. Smiley’s Langdon Family is easily “Every Family.” Her ability to bring that history to life in such vivid detail without losing the momentum of an excellent story causes this trilogy, and this book in particular, to be superb. Reading this book awakens memories long forgotten – most were welcome, others I had hoped would remain in the shadow of forgetfulness. I am looking forward with to the final installment in this series, but I am also savoring the “reunion” brought about by getting to revisit my childhood in “Early Warning.”
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Early warning: This book sucks.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Good read will be for the next
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Hello ladys how are you