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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
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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4.0 out of 5 stars Details July 16 2004
By A Customer
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'. Ginny's life was made up of what was in the garden, her memories of her mother, what she cooked for dinner... This is what filled her day to day and this is what she lived. In allowing yourself (as a reader) to be contentedly absorbed in the details without looking for deeper meaning was exactly what Ginny had been doing her whole life. By the time the novel began to shift from this complacent routine (which the reader begins to assume as well), you find yourself wondering how the characters can solve this in order to bring everyone (including the reader) "back" to that previous place of predictable actions and relative emotional comfort that we all want, all the while knowing that it will not happen due to the gravity of the situations that become exposed and are evolving. As for characters acting "out of character", the novel is about secrets, rage, and discovery of what is really motivating people who are supposed to be family and friends. The whole theme of the book was that people in our lives are not always who they seem or we choose not to see them for who they are. The fact that Smiley mirrors that as well in the readers' experiences' with the characters in that some of their actions and revelations are surprising or unanticipated, I thought, was very clever. Just as Ginny had trouble understanding who she could trust (including herself), we as readers had to decide which characters, if any, to trust, pity, or hate - and did we trust our own opinions and judgments of them? If we flipped through our memories of the characters, were their actions and reactions explainable or were our previous impressions wrong? These were the same questions Ginny was asking- we follow Ginny's emotional journey in the style of the writing in the novel.
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1.0 out of 5 stars Interminable and Pointless May 31 2004
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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5.0 out of 5 stars A classic tragedy Jan. 7 2004
Format:Mass Market Paperback
I just finished this book and I really liked it. It's one of the few Pulitzer winners that I have really enjoyed. For those of you not familiar with the book, it is a modern retelling of King Lear. It takes place on a farm in Iowa in the 1970s.
I just read King Lear for the first time this semester. We spent about three weeks on the play-analyzing it, reading it, talking about it. So when I read A Thousand Acres, the play was very fresh in my mind. As I was reading the play, I had several questions: Why did Lear decide to give his kingdom to his daughters? Why was Cordelia the favorite? Why did Goneril and Regan dislike their father so much? These things aren't explained very well in the play; you simply are supposed to intuit the answers or perhaps Shakespeare did not think these questions were important. Obviously, the play is centered around Lear and therefore his viewpoint permeates the entire work. As a reader/viewer, you are supposed to feel sympathy for Lear and admire him for his transformation from a cold tyrant to a flawed, but redeemable man. But the thing is, I did not feel a lot of sympathy for Lear and I sure as Hell didn't admire him.
Throughout the play, I felt that the actions of the eldest daughters were completely appropriate. They did what I would have done in their situation. When we were reading the play for class, I read for Goneril and I empathized with her character. So one of the best things about this book was that I got to hear the story from my favorite character's perspective. Through Goneril's double Ginny, Smiley fleshes out the subtext that I sensed in the play: Goneril and Regan had reasons to dislike their father; he was not a good man.
I particularly like Smiley's writing style. She has a slow, descriptive pace.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Midwestern Drama and Dysfunction...
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... Read more
Published on Nov. 18 2008 by Laurel-Rain Snow
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 Surprising, Provocative
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. Read more
Published on July 13 2004 by Larry Hand
5.0 out of 5 stars This is a quick one for the part poopers out there
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... Read more
Published on July 6 2004 by Prem Lee Barbosa
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
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing
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. Read more
Published on April 10 2004 by J. Jacobs
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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