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A Thousand Acres: A Novel [Paperback]

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

Dec 2 2003
A successful Iowa farmer decides to divide his farm between his three daughters. When the youngest objects, she is cut out of his will. This sets off a chain of events that brings dark truths to light and explodes long-suppressed emotions. An ambitious reimagining of Shakespeare’s King Lear cast upon a typical American community in the late twentieth century, A Thousand Acres takes on themes of truth, justice, love, and pride, and reveals the beautiful yet treacherous topography of humanity.

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From Amazon

Aging Larry Cook announces his intention to turn over his 1,000-acre farm--one of the largest in Zebulon County, Iowa--to his three daughters, Caroline, Ginny and Rose. A man of harsh sensibilities, he carves Caroline out of the deal because she has the nerve to be less than enthusiastic about her father's generosity. While Larry Cook deteriorates into a pathetic drunk, his daughters are left to cope with the often grim realities of life on a family farm--from battering husbands to cutthroat lenders. In this winner of the 1991 National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction, Smiley captures the essence of such a life with stark, painful detail. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

If Smiley ( Ordinary Love & Good Will ) has previously been hailed for her insight into human nature, the moral complexity of her themes and her lucid and resonant prose, her new novel is her best yet, bringing together her extraordinary talents in a story of stunning insight and impact. "Our farm and our lives seemed secure and good," says narrator Ginny Cook, looking back on the summer before her father capriciously decided to turn over his prosperous 1000-acre Iowa farm to his three daughters and their mates. That was the same summer that Jess Clark, their neighbors' prodigal son, returned after a 13-year absence, romance and peril trailing in his wake. Although Ginny's existence as a farmer's wife and caretaker of her irascible, bullying, widower father is not easy, there are compensations in her good marriage, in the close companionship of her indomitable sister Rose, who lives across the road, and in sharing vicariously in the accomplishments of their younger sister, Caroline, a lawyer. Having managed to submerge her grief at being childless, passive Ginny has also hidden a number of darker secrets in her past. These shocking events work their way out of her subconscious in the dreadful aftermath of her father's decision to rescind his legacy, shouting accusations of filial betrayal. Like Lear's daughters, the Cook sisters each reveal their true natures in events that will leave readers gasping with astonishment. Smiley powerfully evokes the unrelenting, insular world of farm life, the symbiotic relationships between a farmer and his land as well as those among the other members of the rural community. She contrasts the stringencies of nature with those of human nature: the sting of sibling rivalry, the tensions of marriage, the psychological burdens of children, the passion of lovers. Her tightly controlled prose propels tension to nearly unbearable extremes--but always within the limits of credibility. In the end, she has raised profound questions about human conduct and moral responsibility, especially about family relationships and the guilt and bitterness they can foster. BOMC selection.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
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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5.0 out of 5 stars Midwestern Drama and Dysfunction... Nov. 18 2008
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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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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Most recent customer reviews
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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