Jane Smiley has never been a novelist who lacked ambition, but her new project might be her biggest yet. She's embarked on a trilogy that covers the last century of American life—and the first volume, Some Luck, will be published on October 7.

The action begins in 1920s Iowa, where the Langdon family—Rosanna, Walter and their five children—live on a farm, and each chapter covers roughly a year. As the children grow up and move away (or not), Smiley takes a panoramic look at the first half of the century, encompassing the Depression, World War II and the early 1950s. Early buzz is that this one is old-fashioned storytelling at its best.

Smiley has already completed the next two novels in the trilogy (or "cycle," as her publisher has dubbed it), and they're tentatively scheduled for publication in the spring and fall of next year. Like Ken Follett's Century Trilogy, which concludes this fall, the Langdon books take a look at some of this century's most epic events—although with a smaller, more intimate cast of one everyday family.

Check out the opening lines:

Walter Langdon hadn’t walked out to check the fence along the creek for a couple of months—now that the cows were up by the barn for easier milking in the winter, he’d been putting off fence-mending—so he hadn’t seen the pair of owls nesting in the big elm. . . . Right then, he saw one of the owls fly out of a big cavity maybe ten to twelve feet up, either a big female or a very big male—at any rate, the biggest horned owl Walter had ever seen—and he paused and stood there a minute, still in the afternoon breeze, listening, but there was nothing. He saw why in a moment. The owl floated out for maybe twenty yards, dropped toward the snowy pasture. Then came a high screaming, and the owl rose again, this time with a full-grown rabbit in its talons, writhing, then hanging limp, probably deadened by fear. Walter shook himself.


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