Jane Smiley is the unique novelist who can take centuries-old characters, set them in a new location, and get readers to perceive them completely differently. When she turned King Lear’s wicked daughters Cordelia, Regan, and Goneril into Iowa farm sisters Caroline, Rose, and Ginny in A Thousand Acres, she painted them with enough sympathy to win the 1992 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Smiley continues to experiment with settings both historical and Midwestern, returning to Iowa for her latest novel, Golden Age. The third volume in a trilogy that also includes the novels Early Warning and Some Luck, Golden Age follows members of the Langdon family as they scatter around the nation and deal with contemporary issues, from climate change to farm regulations to Wall Street woes. In chronicling American life in the 20th century, critics have likened Smiley to Saul Bellow and John Updike, but her thoughtful ruminations on history and culture defy direct comparisons. Jane Smiley reads at 7:30 p.m. at the Folger Elizabethan Theatre, 201 East Capitol St. SE. $15. (202) 544-4600. folger.edu.