Walter and Rosanna Langdon, the parents, and their six children, Frank, Joe, Mary Elizabeth, Lillian, Henry, and Claire. Each person has a definite personality, and we begin with the marriage of Walter and Rosanna. As they tell their stories of life on a farm in Iowa, we learn what a very difficult life a farmer leads. And, the wives, never stop with their work, from morning to night. However, Rosanna rarely complains, but we are privy to her thoughts and her actions. She of the beautiful face and long blonde hair. Walter, the father, conservative, hard worker, counts his meager pennies, loves his beautiful wife, and his children.
This is the beginning of the family. Life revolves around the family, grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins. Sunday dinners, holidays, birthdays, the food, the 7 layer birthday cakes. No mixers, only hands and maybe an egg beater. We hear about the meals, and see the roasts and vegetables and mashed potatoes in our mind. The house, small, thin enough wood that the wind rustles through the slats in winter, and the heat in summer causes sweat, no relief, no fan, only open windows.
Then, the children, Rosanna loves them so, some more than others. In them she sees each distinct personality, knows how to care for them and when to leave them alone. She wants the best for them, argues the importance of education, so her very intelligent children go to high school, college. We understand the children, we see and hear their lives as they grow from babies to people with personalities. Through the good years, the tough years, the Depression, the War, will they stay or will they leave.
Each chapter is a year in the life of these people, starting in 1920 and ending in this novel, in 1953. This is the first of a trilogy written by Jane Smiley. She tells us the three novels will go to the year 2020. This first one is magnificent. The Langdons are people I care about, you will too.