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A Thousand Acres [Hardcover]

Jane Smiley
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (155 customer reviews)

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By Donald Mitchell #1 HALL OF FAME TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
Most modern novels fail to surprise me. They telegraph where they are going in such obvious ways that I often feel I could write the next chapters and the ending before I read them. Jane Smiley in A Thousand Acres also telegraphs a lot . . . but underneath those obvious road signs, she's built a more powerful message for those who care to read between the lines. Although most people don't want to read a book as long and as dark as this one, it's well worth your while. The character and plot developments display an amazing set of symmetries that are works of genius.

Those who will love this book the most are people who know farm life in the American Middle West well. Having had a grandfather, father and several uncles who were farmers in Illinois raising lots of corn and hogs, I was first impressed by how well Ms. Smiley captured the attitudes, experiences, psychology and perspectives of the American family farmer during the 1930s through the 1980s. I felt like I was reading the history of my own family for about the first third of the book.

Then, she powerfully shifts the ground as the patriarch of the family, Larry Cook, decides to cede control over the family farm to avoid estate taxes. From there, a superficial reading will see this as a modern version of King Lear. I think that obvious parallel is not an accurate view of the book. Instead, this book takes on the qualities of a Greek tragedy as the characters move inexorably towards their preordained fates. What's the source of the tragedy? It's the pride of the American family farmer who lusts for more land and production.

In fact, this book could have been titled "Life Drains Away" as the forces set into action by the characters create an ironic threat to some of the same characters.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Surprising, Provocative July 13 2004
Format:Paperback
A Thousand Acres is full of surprises. Jane Smiley shows us how a family, like any other crop, can be corrupted by sins committed on the land. This is the story of a patriarch who sows bad seeds, affecting not only his daughters, but his grandchildren as well. Family secrets, family rivalries, family tragedies are the results. The author skillfully introduces unforseen twists in this plot of land-in-contention. Smiley well deserves the awards it harvested
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Format:Paperback
Don't like the book? That's fine. Everyone has the right to their own opinion, but before you go and start a raving review like the silly seventeen year-old girl who disliked the book, consider that your opinion wont be well taken.
Books don't win the pulitzer prize because they're bad. No, that wouldn't make sense, would it?
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1.0 out of 5 stars Interminable and Pointless May 31 2004
Format:Paperback
This is a book about which reasonable people obviously are going to disagree, but I found it so dull as to be a simply excrutiating read. Smiley's story of the decline of an Iowa farm family has the makings of a modern-day tragedy, perhaps, but her prose style, which dwells on innumerable tiny but insignificant details of everyday life--every vegetable in the garden, every hot dish at the social, every item in the closet of the narrator's mother, list after list of details that play no discernible role in the story--makes plowing the thousand acres of the book's title seem a lot easier than plowing through this interminable novel. For page after boring page, nothing whatever of significance happens; instead, Smiley's prose reads like an exercise in descriptive language from a creative writing class. And despite all this description, the characters of the novel remain curiously beyond our interest and seem often to act out of inexplicable whim. Such is true even of the narrator, whose most bizarre act (I won't reveal it, but it has to do with liver sausages) comes out of nowhere and ends up meaning nothing. Smiley obviously knows farming, but her writing in this novel cries out for the touch of a careful editor.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing April 10 2004
Format:Paperback
Despite my friends highly rating this book, I just couldn't get into it. I found it unconvincing with weak premises and I failed to establish a strong bond with the characters. Very disappointing.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Midwestern Drama and Dysfunction... Nov. 18 2008
Format:Paperback
On a thousand-acre ranch in Iowa, a family compound of three farmhouses in close proximity to one another contains an aging father and two of his three daughters, along with their families.

Homey habits of family get-togethers and church picnics characterize their lives. But beneath the seemingly placid surface, family secrets, rivalries and betrayals lurk. When the patriarch makes an unexpected decision to set up a corporation and hand everything over to his
daughters, emotions are unleashed and a maelstrom of turbulence ensues.

Once the plans are set in motion, one of the daughters balks -- soon there is a court case, with family members pitted against one another. And the father, who orchestrated events, is revealed as an angry, bitter tyrant. Then one of the daughters discloses to her sister the deep, dark secret that has informed most of her actions in adulthood.

Nothing will ever be the same again on these one thousand acres...

A Thousand Acres: A Novel is a multifaceted dysfunctional family portrait...compellingly wrought by this award-winning author.

By Laurel-Rain Snow, Author of Web of Tyranny
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Details
One reviewer mentioned the large amount of detail that is in the novel. I thought the detail an interesting way to have the reader's experience mirror the characters'. Read more
Published on July 16 2004
2.0 out of 5 stars A Thousand Acres-prize worthy?
I, too, found the book to be something akin to a Harlequin romance. I also resent the fact that one reviewer mocked another as a "silly young girl" because he/she didn't... Read more
Published on July 16 2004
5.0 out of 5 stars Lear on the farm
I read this about 12 years ago and loved it. Smiley has a way with words. She describes anything well, whether it's her characters' thoughts, farm work or a dream. Read more
Published on May 3 2004 by Luis M. Luque
4.0 out of 5 stars A Great Read
Smiley weaves a story that slowly draws you in and once hooked, it's hard to put down. The drama is subtle, in the beginning we learn about the characters and their somewhat simple... Read more
Published on March 14 2004 by Ann M. Douglas
4.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful..
book full of rich descriptions making you feel as if you are there. I couldn't put this book down. I do however feel that I didn't understand the dad fully and wanted to know why... Read more
Published on Feb. 25 2004 by Tonya Speelman
5.0 out of 5 stars An Excellent Book
This book leaves the reader with many questions about human nature and the meaning of family. It begins with a detailed accounting of life on a family farm in 1979 in Iowa. Read more
Published on Feb. 9 2004 by Melanie
5.0 out of 5 stars Modern midwestern farm version of A Thousand Acres
This novel feels slow and heavy for about 100 pages. But the description is wonderful. The novel then picks up as the story of the family unfolds. Read more
Published on Jan. 29 2004 by J. Amedio
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