2 of 10
Early Warning
496 pages; Knopf
Beginning with the funeral of Iowa farmer and patriarch Walter Langdon, each chapter in this sweeping saga covers a year in the life of the Langdon family. We follow his children and their children's children through the decades—the swinging sixties, the politically riotous seventies, the economic boom of the eighties—as some stay behind to maintain the farm and others make new homes across the country. Technically a sequel to the novel Some Luck. Smiley's latest has no trouble standing on its own—though the cast of characters can be difficult to keep straight (the genealogy chart provided at the beginning runs just shy of 70 names). But this densely populated world provides Smiley room to tackle an expanse of weighty subjects: how we are born, how we die, how we marry and split apart and try to muddle through alone. Through it all she reveals remarkably powerful insights: "You must know that you don't love children for being good or bad," one character remarks late in the novel. You love your children, he says, "because they don't know what's coming and maybe you do."
— Julia Pierpont