In this latest by Pulitzer Prize winning author of A Thousand Acres, comes the story of the Langdon family starting at 1920, when Rosanna and Walter Langdon of Denby, Iowa work their farm and their first child is about six months. Each chapter is a different year and shows different viewpoints of the various family members, Walter's Irish family and Rosanna's German one. As Rosanna and Walter try to pass on their values to their children and do their best to keep them alive, when there are always accidents on the farm and anyone can die. From Frankie, the handsome, willful firstborn, who charms his way out of things and wants more than the farm life for him; to Joe, who is born to the life of a farmer as he loves the animals and has a near magical way with the crops; Mary Elizabeth, the sweet child; the delightful Lillian; Claire, her father's favorite, and Henry, the odd duck of the family.
This book follows them through the good times of the early twenties through the depression when they wonder if there'll be enough to eat on the table that year, through the war years when Frankie enlists in order to see more of the world, and perhaps sees too much. Joe gets a deferment so he can work the farms. These people are the salt of the earth and look out for each other. When harvest time comes, all the neighbors come out and help each other out. The Langdon's also look out for their next door neighbor's farm after the death of the two girls' parents, one of which girl, Joe has his eye on for many years but seems to get no where with her. They also look out for an Uncle who committed suicide's farm as well as the grandparents farm.
Its a wonder they have time to do anything. For a long time, Walter resists using tractors and sticks to the old method of horses, but times change and he has more work to do so he invests in a tractor. Not knowing what to do with Frankie, who is too smart for his own good, they send him to live in Chicago with Rosanna's younger sister and her husband and daughter. But they aren't much help in that they are obsessed with the Communist Party and have no time to watch over Frankie and make sure he does not get into trouble.
Joe is the sweet child, who should be treasured by someone special, not necessarily the one that he wants. The two girls are special in their own ways as well. Unfortunately not all of the children survive the book. After the war, Frankie stumbles upon a job where he sniffs out spies and communists that are against the United States.
This book is the first in an epic trilogy of an enthralling family and how they once started out in such simple ways, but quickly become complex as the world becomes more convoluted and things become less black and white as they once were. This book is a fascinating look at a family throughout the twentieth century and what they do to survive.
I do not think that there can ever be enough books about anything and I say that knowing that some of them are going to be about Pilates.The more knowledge the better seems like a solid rule of thumb, even though I have watched enough science fiction films to accept that humanity’s unchecked pursuit of learning will end with robots taking over the world.-Sarah Vowell