Jane Smiley’s trilogy experimentation

Writer's Digest September 2015Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jane Smiley was interviewed for the September 2015 edition of Writer’s Digest. In the interview, she discussed numerous topics, including her new trilogy, The Last Hundred Years. The three novels will follow the Langdon family and their five children for a period of 100 years.

The saga begins on a farm in Iowa in 1919, and follows the stories of the family members as they pass through wars and events across the century, social changes, and the effects of climate change.

Smiley set up an interesting writing experiment in her three novels: Some Luck, Early Warning, and the anticipated Golden Age. In the article, she said she wanted to divide the three novels up equally over the century, not emphasizing any time period more than others. Therefore, she developed a rigid structure : keeping track of 40 different characters and ensuring that each time period received equal billing.

It sounds like a pretty daunting experiment, but Smiley claims her rules paid off and allowed her to dedicate an equal amount of time to each of her characters and eras.

And, she called what to my mind seems a migraine-inducing experiment, ‘an incredible amount of fun’.

I’ve enjoyed earlier works by Smiley, and I’ll enjoy reading this ambitious trilogy. If you want to see the outtakes of the interview with Smiley, available to non-subscribers, take a look here.

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