October 15, 2015 6:17 AM EDT

If “soil is the great connector of lives,” as Wendell Berry wrote, it can’t be good that the Langdon family in Jane Smiley’s Golden Age is forgetting its roots.

The rich but plainspoken third volume in Smiley’s Last Hundred Years trilogy follows Some Luck (2014) and Early Warning (April of this year) to complete the multigenerational account of an Iowa farm family. Golden Age begins in 1987, with the Langdons scattered across the country, mostly far from their native fields. They struggle through virtually every low point in contemporary history: one dies on 9/11; two serve in the Middle East; another is a Wall Street villain complicit in the recession; his twin brother, a New York Congressman, deals with the political fallout.

Readers may favor certain aunts, uncles and cousins, but Smiley, who won the Pulitzer in 1992 for A Thousand Acres, is primarily rooting for the farm itself–shoring it up against threats ranging from dust-bowl ravages to GMOs to climate change. Her environmental themes sometimes feel pedantic. What most threatens the land–and the Langdon family’s “golden age”–are not rising temperatures but good old-fashioned betrayal.


This appears in the October 26, 2015 issue of TIME.

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