Day 1050: Golden Age

Cover for Golden AgeGolden Age is the last book in Jane Smiley’s Last Hundred Years trilogy. It begins in 1987 and finishes a couple of years into a slightly dystopian future.

The Langdon family tree has expanded since the first book. Now, the original Langdon children are in their 60’s and 70’s. One has died of cancer, and by the end of the novel, only one of them is still living.

By necessity, this novel concentrates more on some of the Langdon descendants than others. Frank and Andy’s sons Richard and Michael are continuing to clash. Richard forges a political career by being a compromiser, while Michael makes it big on Wall Street and subsequently misappropriates funds from several member of his family. Joe’s son Jesse continues to struggle with the farm while both of his sons go to war. Claire finally finds happiness with Carl. Felicity becomes an environmental activist, while Janet spends most of her time with horses. Henry and Andy are also important characters.

Like the other novels, Golden Age covers most of the important events in its time period, the past 30 years—recessions, wars, 9/11, climate change, and fiscal crimes. Guthrie goes to Iraq. A family member is killed on 9/11. Michael is a major criminal on Wall Street.

Although I still felt some distance from the characters because there were so many and because the narration skips around from one to another so often, I couldn’t help but be caught up by the sheer volume and breadth of the trilogy. I wasn’t sure what I thought about the projection into the future of a country largely devoid of rain and mounting in chaos. Smiley, of course, couldn’t predict our current peculiar election results, which shows up the problems with this type of predictive writing in a largely realistic novel. Some aspects of her last chapters remind me a bit of Margaret Atwood’s Maddaddam series.

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Day 789: The Fall of Princes

Cover for The Fall of PrincesI didn’t really think I would like the subject matter of The Fall of Princes, but I enjoyed Goolrick’s A Reliable Wife, so I thought I’d give it a try. I have to say, though, that for most of the novel I found the protagonist repugnant.

As a young man, the protagonist, who isn’t really named but is called Rooney once or twice, becomes a successful trader on Wall Street. Still young, he loses his job and everything else and spends his middle age living in the past.

That’s about it. We learn this in the first chapters of the novel and then it repeats. Each chapter is either a record of excess wherein he and his friends throw millions away on clothes, food, booze, drugs, and sex, or it’s a pathetic present-day story about something like ordering nice clothes and sending them back. Even after his failures, he doesn’t seem to learn a new value system.

The novel is set mostly in the 80’s and is supposed to be a paeon to New York’s glamor, glitz, and grit. But I was appalled by the lack of morals of these people, all engaged in gorging themselves on everything. They are young and perhaps can be excused for getting carried away. However, though the main character learns a few lessons by the end, they are long in coming.

link to NetgalleyThe onset of AIDS at its worst adds the darkest overtones to the novel. The protagonist, who has lived through years of having sex with everything that moves, of course has to worry about AIDS. But this portion of the book is stated so savagely, it’s hard to know what to think about it. It’s as if the author thinks you have to have lived in New York in the 80’s to mourn someone who died from AIDS.

I did find that the last few chapters redeemed the novel somewhat, those and the fact that it is so strongly written. However, in its story of one excess after another, it seemed virtually plotless. These main characters were just too crass and brutal for me. That’s probably the point, though.

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