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An interesting family saga, but it is a bit tedious at tiimes.

Early Warning: A novel - Jane Smiley

This is the second book in a planned trilogy; the first was “Some Luck”. In this book, the reader is transported to the 1950’s and carried slowly forward, using a multiplicity of characters, into the 1980’s. I listened to an audio version of the book and it was extremely hard to keep track of the characters, their parents, spouses, lovers, and children. I read that there is a family tree in the hard copy. Therefore, I recommend reading the hard copy, although the audio was produced well. Simply put, it will be less confusing if you can track the characters through their lives with a list of extended family members.

When it begins, the family is at the funeral of Rosanna’s husband, Walter Langdon, and when it ends, we have witnessed several more funerals, the last of which is Lillian Langdon’s. New beginnings await the family as a young man named Charles enters their lives, unexpectedly bringing tears to the eyes of the new widower, Arthur, and confusion to his surviving siblings.

Because of the numerous family members and their friends and extended families, the details sometimes become tedious and repetitive. Every societal ill is visited upon the family at one time or another, and the reader is subjected to a play by play description as the story plays out. Of course, children are born, the elderly die, relatives grow ill, sibling rivalry causes turmoil. There are clashes of philosophies as children grow older and disagree with their parent’s perspectives. All of the ordinary incidents of life, and then some, occur. Nothing is left out as the family moves through the years, travels to various locations, takes up diverse occupations and styles of life.

Some members join the military, some work for the government, some sell weapons, some enter the publishing field, some farm, some entertain, and some join cults. Infidelity is common as is divorce. The mental state of some of the family members leaves a lot to be desired. There is alcoholism, lying, and infidelity as well as divorce, bank failures and bankruptcies. All of society’s ills in those three decades are manifested in one way or another.

Across the pages we watch the soldiers march off to the Viet Nam War, we witness Nixon’s disgrace, the assassination of JFK, MLK and Robert Kennedy, the mass suicide in Guyana instigated by Reverend Jones who created Jonestown and the People‘s Temple. We follow Reagan’s election, Mao Tse Tung, Stalin, Patty Hearst, Jerry Brown and Angela Davis, also the workings of Un-American Committees looking for Communists. We read about itinerant workers, prostitution, socialism, funerals with their heartrending eulogies paying homage to the dead, family breakdowns, marriages torn asunder, college dropouts, tapped phones, police brutality, Kent State, cancer, and even childbirth in a bathtub. There is homophobia, homosexuality, racism, multiple births, drugs, protests, suicide, murder, domestic violence, intermarriage, religious bias, cross dressing and sex between patient and analyst, and of course, there are varied political points of view. Have I missed anything? Don’t worry, it will surely appear between the pages of the book. Just think, all of this happened in just three decades! What awaits us in the final installment of the book which will take us to the present day? One can only imagine.