Early Warning

Early Warning

by Jane Smiley


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307700322
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/28/2015
Series: Last Hundred Years Trilogy Series , #2
Pages: 496
Product dimensions: 6.60(w) x 9.30(h) x 2.30(d)

About 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.


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

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.

Reading Group Guide

The questions, discussion topics, and reading list that follow are intended to enhance your reading group’s discussion of Early Warning, the captivating and emotionally engaging journey of the Langdons, a farm family from Iowa, through the mid-twentieth century.

1. Early Warning is the second volume of The Last Hundred Years trilogy and builds upon the characters first introduced in volume one, Some Luck. Had you read Some Luck before starting this novel? If you did, how did you reorient yourself in the world of the Langdons? And if not, what was it like to meet the family for the first time here in 1953?

2. In Early Warning’s first scene, the family is gathered for the funeral of Walter, who died at the end of Some Luck. How does this reunion establish the dynamics among the present family members as well as bridge the gap between the two books? How is Walter’s presence felt throughout the scene and by each of his five children and his wife, Rosanna?

3. How is the secrecy behind Frank and Arthur’s relationship, personal and professional, conveyed throughout the novel? Do you think that either of them can ever fully know the other’s true motives or responsibilities, given their personalities and the political climate of this time period? Why or why not?

4. How does Smiley capture the tensions of the postwar era during the first half of the novel, politically and socially, in the United States and internationally?

5. Why does Andy have such misgivings toward her children and role as a mother? Does this aspect of her character change during the course of the book as Janet, Michael, and Richie grow up?

6. What are the different kinds of parenting portrayed in the book? How do parenting methods and attitudes change over time and between generations of mothers and fathers? What if anything struck you in particular about how this next generation of Langdons raises their children?

7. How does a farmer’s sense of responsibility, impending doom, and preparedness get passed on from generation to generation among the farmers in this novel? Does being cautious and expectant of the “many things [that] could go wrong” on a farm help the land in Denby, and those who are tilling it, flourish (37)?

8. Describe the bond between Henry and Claire. Besides their proximity in age, what about this set of siblings’ personalities and lifestyles makes them so close?

9. How do Andy’s therapy sessions reveal to the reader, and to her, certain parts of her past that she’s kept hidden? What do the various doctors and techniques she tries say about psychiatry and its parallel practices during the 1950s, including in the context of the more liberal ideas of sex during that time period?

10. How do the secrets and burdens of Arthur’s job manifest themselves in his decisions and relationship with his family, especially Lillian? In what ways does he embody the paranoia of the Cold War period? Are his fears even greater than the average American’s during this time?

11. Despite Janet’s antagonism toward her mother, what do she and Andy have in common? Do either of them acknowledge these overlaps in their dreams, fears, and ideas about motherhood? Do their attitudes toward one another change over the course of the novel?

12. What do we learn about Fiona in the scene where she rides her horse bareback? What is it that draws Debbie and Tim alike so strongly to her?

13. Are the twins, Richie and Michael, more enemies or accomplices? How does the trouble they get into from the time they’re very young demonstrate their respective personalities and characters, as well as their complicated feelings for each other?

14. What do you think motivates Frank to betray his wife and hold himself at a distance from his family? What about Lydia Forêt makes her deserve being called the “love of his life”? What did you make of Andy’s reaction to discovering Frank’s infidelities?

15. What do you think the title of the book, Early Warning, means? How is it relevant to the events and general atmosphere of this novel and to what may be to come in the third volume of Smiley’s trilogy?

16. How does Rosanna, the matriarch of the Langdon family, stay connected to her children as they grow up in a new age while also holding fast to her values from the more distant past? How do those past values conflict with various developments in politics and other social changes in her present?

17. How does Smiley use Tim’s brief time in Vietnam to lend specificity to the way the war was fought, from the setting to the interactions among the men to their understanding of their goals there? In what ways does Lillian’s sense that “he would manifest again” after his death come true?

18. What are the differences between the military experiences of Tim, Michael, and Richie? How do these also compare with what you know from Some Luck, or heard retold in Early Warning, about Frank’s and Walter’s military service?

19. Describe the diaspora among the younger Langdons. What takes some of them away from Iowa and what makes others, like Joe and Jesse, stay? What events and emotions consistently bring them back together, and what does this say about the pull of home in general in a family?

20. What do Henry’s romantic interests—from his cousin Rosa to Basil and Philip—reveal about his character and the times in which he came of age?

21. How does Smiley juxtapose the older, more traditional values of a previous generation of characters, those in Some Luck with the changing cultural climate of the ’60s and ’70s at the end of Early Warning? Which of the characters emerge as supporters of a more liberal point of view, and which are more conservative? Were you surprised by any of the characters’ decisions or attitudes?

22. What true feelings does their trip to Paris arouse among the members of Frank’s family? Does Janet’s confrontation with Frank surprise you? Why might the level of trust and support among Frank, Andy, and Janet be especially complicated, even beyond the normal tensions among parents and children?

23. How does Janet embrace the revolutionary fervor of her time? What are some of the more personal reasons she has for joining certain protests and the Peoples Temple when she’s young, and how does her rebelliousness change once she is a wife and mother herself?

24. How is Frank’s buying out of the farm received by other members of the family, and why do you think he did this? Who do you think is the real inheritor of the farm? What might you guess is to come of the land based on this transaction and the kinds of crops, techniques, etc. being used by Jesse as he takes over from Joe, his father?

25. Why does Lillian keep the truth of her illness from her family for so long, and how have perceptions of cancer changed since she first discovered the lump in her breast? What does the tone of Lillian’s funeral suggest about her place in the family and how they’ll continue without her?

26. What is fitting about the way that Chance, Michael and Loretta’s son, is born? Does it suggest anything to you about the twins might behave as fathers in the future?

27. Who is Charlie, and why do you think Smiley introduces him into the story the way she does? Were you able to figure out his identity while reading? What does his presence add to the sense of mystery and secrecy that pervades the story in other ways?

28. How does the conclusion of Early Warning both tie up narrative threads woven throughout the book and introduce new potential conflicts and through-lines for the Langdons in the final volume of the trilogy? What do you expect will come next, and how does this degree of expectation compare to what you felt upon finishing Some Luck?

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Early Warning: A novel 2.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 17 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
The time in history was interesting but there are almost too many characters. I kind of lost interest in what happened to them.
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.”
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Never have I read a book with so many characters I cared so little about.
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