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In this week’s election for a Senate seat in the Midwestern swing state that gave Jane Smiley a home for 24 years, the Democratic candidate – a trial lawyer – blundered badly by dissing the sons of the soil. On Tuesday, Bruce Braley duly lost heavily to Republican Joni Ernst.“Iowa is a kind of naturally centrist state,” Smiley says, as we speed on a train through England’s own rolling farmland on the way to a bookshop event in Bath.The novelist taught at Iowa State University for 15 years, after studying for two higher degrees there.But this famous literary equestrian no longer breeds horses, and now finds that the “generalised criminality” of the US racing scene has spoiled the fun of the track.she achieved an extraordinary re-creation of Viking life beyond the Arctic Circle.Smiley surprises with each new novel and I like where she takes me on her tireless literary adventures and compulsive, unpretentious storytelling.Early Warning continues the galloping chronological biography of a family and of the American century, year by year, child by child.Rosanna’s family is of German origin, and her ever-questioning sister Eloise marries Julius Silber: a Jew, a Communist, and an Englishman.

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In each family, Smiley seems to be saying that there will always be boring and baggy moments. If Volume One was ''down on the farm in rural Iowa with mom and pop'' then Early Warning is about ''money, war, city life and baby boomers: the siblings story''. We understand Frank's cool disengagement and bizarre love life; we are respectful of his stoical brother Joe, the farmer who stays behind; protective of Lillian who marries the patriotic-patriarch, Arthur, and we are delighted by the literature-loving, gay Henry and of Claire's determination to break free of overbearing Paul. Tim's death is traumatic; Lillian and Rosanna die in quiet, heart-breaking prose.So there has to be a little of the pastoral within the epic.”On the way to Bath, I wonder about another writer who managed to make an apparently small world encompass most of human character and choice: Jane Austen.Set in Bath, Persuasion is Smiley’s favourite among Austen’s novels.But did I really scribble the words ''boring'' and ''baggy'' in my notebook about volume one: Some Luck?The novel has one short chapter for each year which skims over people's lives, switching viewpoints, always the outside observer.

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