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A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley

A Thousand Acres

by Jane Smiley

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4,930101928 (3.72)312
  1. 80
    King Lear by William Shakespeare (browner56)
    browner56: The original and a modern retelling of a powerful story involving some very strong women
  2. 20
    Plainsong by Kent Haruf (lyzadanger)
    lyzadanger: Similar treatment of broad-open landscapes and middle American family values.
  3. 10
    The Lobster Kings by Alexi Zentner (kjgormley)
    kjgormley: They are both King Lear retellings.
  4. 01
    1606 : William Shakespeare and the year of Lear by James Shapiro (amarie)
    amarie: Insight into King Lear source and everything else happening that year.

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Showing 1-5 of 97 (next | show all)
A family saga, taken from the pages of Shakespeare, contains Larry Cook as patriarch, farmer and owner of 1,000 corn luscious acres, and his daughters Ginny, Rose and Caroline. Living and tending this land, surrounded by family and friends, sounds ideal. Yet, as with every perfect picture, this one has tiny fissures that become crevices once Larry decides to divide the land between his daughters. Caroline, the youngest, walks away from the deal but remains in the background. The older two manage the land with their husbands and despite their cool feelings toward each other run it quite well. With old age, Larry becomes paranoid and wants his land back. Hey wait, you've heard this story before, haven't you? Well, sure, it's King Lear but Smiley brings the old story up to date and sheds light on a world unbeknownst to many, the ins and outs, ups and downs of farming. She raises awareness of farming methods that in 1979 were just beginning to become a concern.
The reader meanders through this story as if traveling a country road but be watchful, the author, occasionally, throws you a curve ball which makes you stop, back up and travel that sentence again thinking, "What?! Did she just say what I thought she said?!
Highly recommend you pluck this one off the shelf soon. ( )
  Carmenere | Feb 6, 2017 |
A great novel that recasts Shakespeare's tragedy as the rise of big ag. ( )
  StefanieBrookTrout | Feb 4, 2017 |
Provocative, powerful retelling of King Lear, set on an Iowa farm in the 1970s. The book is narrated from the POV of Ginny (i.e., Goneril), the eldest child of Larry Cook (Lear), an Iowa corn farmer who decides to retire and deed his land to his three daughters. The youngest daughter, Caroline (Cordelia), expresses some initial reluctance about the plan, and Larry shuts her out completely. After the farm is deeded over, the middle daughter, Rose (Regan), begins to treat her father with increasing condescension and then outright disdain.

So far so good Lear-wise, except that Ginny and Rose are hardly the villains that Goneril and Regan are in Shakespeare's play. Instead, A Thousand Acres presents Larry as a tyrant in his own house, and supplies the two older daughters with more than enough motivation for spurning him when it reveals that he sexually abused them for years when they were younger. Caroline's sympathy for her father in the second half of the novel begins to look like naive petulance, as she fails to understand that Rose and Ginny protected her from their father for years after their mother died.

But A Thousand Acres doesn't merely celebrate Rose and Ginny's revenge on their father. Instead, it becomes an exploration of the lengths people will go to preserve appearances, and the dark secrets that seemingly decent people might be hiding beneath the surface. The prose style is gorgeous, and Smiley demonstrates a persuasive understanding of the landscape and family farming. There's also an embedded critique here of the way that corporate agribusiness displaced family farms in the second part of the 20th century. Really a stunning novel from beginning to end. ( )
  jalbacutler | Jan 10, 2017 |
Despite its many positive reviews, I do not think this is Smiley's best. She misses the sense of engagement and community that is much more for people of these Iowa farms than just a nice setting for a remake of King Lear. The dilemmas ring true, but the solutions seem contrived. No Iowa farm family sends a kid off to boarding school, no matter what the home life is like. Also, no Iowa farm family lives in such splendid isolation from neighbors and extended family. An entertaining book, but much of it utterly fantastic. ( )
  kaitanya64 | Jan 3, 2017 |
I loved this book for the first half. Then I saw where the plot was going. I tried to warn her "don't do it! don't!" but she did it anyway. And watched the story progress to its inevitable bad times.
My friend mentioned that the "contest" set up by the father came from King Lear, including the fact that the daughter who refused to play the game was really the one that loved him best.
I read a copy from the library more than fifteen years ago, and I have no idea which edition it was. And I'm unlikely to ever read it again. ( )
  CarolJMO | Dec 12, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 97 (next | show all)
Does this sound familiar?

At the opening of Jane Smiley's latest novel, "A Thousand Acres," the narrator, a woman named Virginia Cook Smith, describes the farm in Zebulon County, Iowa, that she and her two younger sisters, Rose and Caroline, have grown up on: "Paid for, no encumbrances, as flat and fertile, black, friable and exposed as any piece of land on the face of the earth."

And then comes the shock of recognition. In 1979, the three sisters' father, Laurence (Larry) Cook, decides to form a corporation out of his farm holdings and give each of his daughters a third of it. What do they think of the plan? "It's a good idea," says the oldest, who is called Ginny. "It's a great idea," says the second daughter, Rose. "I don't know," says the youngest, Caroline, who is a lawyer.

"You don't want it, my girl, you're out," says Larry to Caroline. "It's as simple as that." So the farm is divided into two instead of three, with Ginny and Rose to take turns looking after Larry. And a tragedy of ingratitude, madness and generational conflict begins. . . .

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The body repeats the landscape. They are the source of each other and create each other. We were marked by the seasonal body of earth, by the terrible migrations of people, by the swift turn of a century, verging on change never before experienced on this greening planet.

-- Meridel Le Sueur, "The Ancient People and the Newly Come"
To Steve, as simple as that
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At sixty miles per hour, you could pass our farm in a minute, on County Road 686, which ran due north into the T intersection at Cabot Street Road.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0449907481, Paperback)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 17:57:53 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

Dark truths and long-suppressed emotions come to the surface in 1979 when a successful Iowa farmer decides to cut one of his daughters out of his will.

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