Cover image for Early warning
Early warning
Smiley, Jane.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 2015.
Physical Description:
475 pages ; 25 cm
Family patriarch Walter Langdon has died, and his children have fanned out across the country. The narrative moves year by year from 1953 to 1986, encompassing Cold War blinkeredness, Sixties rebellion, and escalating wealth into the Eighties.
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From the Pulitzer Prize-winner: the second installment, following Some Luck, of her widely acclaimed, best-selling American trilogy, which brings the journey of a remarkable family with roots in the Iowa heartland into mid-century America

Early Warning opens in 1953 with the Langdon family at a crossroads. Their stalwart patriarch, Walter, who with his wife, Rosanna, sustained their farm for three decades, has suddenly died, leaving their five children, now adults, looking to the future. Only one will remain in Iowa to work the land, while the others scatter to Washington, D.C., California, and everywhere in between.

As the country moves out of post-World War II optimism through the darker landscape of the Cold War and the social and sexual revolutions of the 1960s and '70s, and then into the unprecedented wealth--for some--of the early 1980s, the Langdon children each follow a different path in a rapidly changing world. And they now 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 that will send shock waves through the Langdon family into the next generation.

Capturing a transformative period through richly drawn characters we come to know and care deeply for, Early Warning continues Smiley's extraordinary epic trilogy, a gorgeously told saga that began with Some Luck and will span a century in America. But it also stands entirely on its own as an engrossing story of the challenges--and rewards--of family and home, even in the most turbulent of times, all while showcasing a beloved writer at the height of her considerable powers.

Author Notes

Jane Smiley was born in Los Angeles, California on September 26, 1949. She received a B. A. from Vassar College in 1971 and an M.F.A. and a Ph.D from the University of Iowa. From 1981 to 1996, she taught undergraduate and graduate creative writing workshops at Iowa State University. Her books include The Age of Grief, The Greenlanders, Moo, Horse Heaven, Ordinary Love and Good Will, Some Luck, and Early Warning. In 1985, she won an O. Henry Award for her short story Lily, which was published in The Atlantic Monthly. A Thousand Acres received both the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Pulitzer Prize.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

*Starred Review* Smiley continues the multigenerational, cross-country saga of the Iowa-rooted Langdon family she began in Some Luck (2014). As before, each chapter covers a year, this time from 1953 to 1986, and once again Smiley adeptly meshes diverse personal experiences with landmark events and seismic shifts in social consciousness. First-born Frank, a darkly glamorous former WWII sniper with an eidetic memory, glides into the upper echelons of the booming postwar weapons and oil industries while continuing to assist Arthur, his profoundly tormented CIA operative brother-in-law, in covert operations. Frank's wife fears the atomic bomb, lies to her psychoanalysts, and drinks too much, while their daughter is drawn into Reverend Jim Jones' Peoples Temple, and their twin sons practice a violent form of sibling rivalry. Arthur and Lillian's son serves in Vietnam; Frank's professor brother carefully embraces his taboo sexuality; sister Claire endures a smothering marriage; and the matriarch, Rosanna, turns startlingly adventurous. With penetrating looks at the military, the dawn of rock and roll, the Kennedy and King assassinations, Watergate, and the farm crisis, Smiley demonstrates an incisive historical perspective, virtuosic omniscient narration, free-flowing empathy, and a gift for sparring dialogue. Every scene is saturated with sensuous and emotional detail as Smiley consummately articulates the micro and the macro, the comedic and the tragic in this grand story of an iconic American family. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Best-selling Some Luck was beloved by critics and readers alike, ensuring an enthusiastic reception for the second novel in Smiley's extraordinary Last Hundred Years trilogy as the author tours the country.--Seaman, Donna Copyright 2015 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

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) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Library Journal Review

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 © Copyright 2015. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



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. Excerpted from Early Warning by Jane Smiley All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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