Jane Smiley, left, regaled MPR's Kerri Miller and a rapt audience with frank memories and observations in the Talking Volumes season finale Wednesday. Photo by Tom Campbell. 

Historical-fiction writer Jane Smiley is extremely well-read, thoughtful and entertaining. She is also what we here in her former environs, the Midwest, would call "a hoot." Hundreds of her avid fans came to the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul Wednesday night to hear Smiley discuss "Golden Age," the final installment of her trilogy about multiple generations of an Iowa farm family, in the final Talking Volumes event of the season.

Smiley, who now lives in California, was in fine fettle, relaxed enough to do an impromptu imitation of her horse trainer's stride, much to the delight of the audience and host Kerri Miller of MPR. Smiley expounded on her childhood -- "growing up in a gossipy family is essential for a novelist" -- the joys and challenges of parenting and her four husbands, to whom she dedicated "Golden Age."

Number 3 would have been her last, she said, "but he left me for the dental hygienist. He spent a lot of time getting his teeth filled." Jack Canning, her fourth and current spouse, first appealed to her when he came to fix her barn: "I saw he had a table saw and thought, there's talent there."

This was around the time of the President Clinton/ Monica Lewinsky scandal, she said, and when she ran out to tell Jack "They found the dress!" he replied, "Who is Monica Lewinsky?"

"Tha'ts when I knew he couldn't be shaped," she said.

Listen to the broadcast of Miller's chat with Smiley at noon Tuesday on MPR.

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