Phenomenally powerful . . . Her cast is big, and growing all the time, but Smiley has a remarkable grip on all her characters . . . So unhurried, so comprehensive and so intimate is the access Smiley allows . . . we at once observe how families operate as organisms and feel ourselves embedded in a living, breathing one.
Comparisons have already been made with John Updike's towering Rabbit tetralogy, and both writers have an extraordinary ability to define what it is to be American at the most intimate level. But where Updike is the consummate stylist, Smiley speaks more plainly; where he is cool, she is warm. She is also very funny . . . and too finely intelligent to stoop to folksiness.
In fact, what Smiley feels most like here, for her faultless skill in bringing a wide cast so vividly into being that we would know them anywhere, for the remarkable intensity of her feeling for territory and landscape and her combination of impatient intellect, emotional perspicacity and unfailing humanity, is America's Tolstoy. The satisfactions of the first two volumes of this trilogy have been so complex and nourishing that the comparison seems justified, and the third instalment can't come soon enough.