You wait for years to read a trilogy set in Iowa and then two come along at once. This autumn, Marilynne Robinson’s Lila completes her searching trilogy of redemption and spirituality in fictional Gilead, Iowa; Jane Smiley’s Some Luck is the first volume of The Last One Hundred Years, her Iowa-centric saga of American life from 1920 to 2020. Why choose Iowa? Is it because the state is in the American heartland, a red and rural emblem of moral certainties? Or perhaps, as Smiley has commented, because farming and food are at the centre of American life? Or could it be because the legendary Writers’ Workshop, where Smiley studied and Robinson teaches, is in Iowa City? If it lacks the glitter of New York, the grit of Texas or the glamour of California, still Iowa has its own harshly beautiful landscape and conservative aura.
‘Iowa made me,’ Smiley has told an interviewer. She lived in the state for almost twenty-four years, as a student at the University of Iowa, where she got a PhD in Old Norse, and then as a professor at Iowa State University in Ames. Her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, A Thousand