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A Thousand Acres: A Novel by Jane Smiley

A Thousand Acres: A Novel (original 1991; edition 2003)

by Jane Smiley

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4,376721,126 (3.71)209
Title:A Thousand Acres: A Novel
Authors:Jane Smiley
Info:Anchor (2003), Edition: Reprint, Paperback
Collections:Your library, Prize-winners
Tags:Pulitzer prize, Family drama, Small town USA, Fiction

Work details

A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley (1991)

  1. 50
    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. 00
    The Lobster Kings by Alexi Zentner (kjgormley)
    kjgormley: They are both King Lear retellings.

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English (68)  French (2)  Swedish (1)  All languages (71)
Showing 1-5 of 68 (next | show all)
Reading this book produced many conflicting reactions for me. I was predisposed to like it after loving Smiley's book, The Greenlanders. I knew this would be very different but I immediately found that I still loved her writing style. Her language is restrained but beautiful at the same time and descriptive without being flowery. The premise of this novel is sort of a King Lear retelling. An Iowa farmer who has amassed 1000 acres of farm land decides to divide the farm between his three daughters during his lifetime. His youngest daughter rejects the idea and he, in turn, cuts her out of the deal. At the same time this is happening, a neighboring farmer's son who disappeared to avoid being drafted to the Vietnam war returns to the town. He comes with ideas of organic farming and ends up shaking up his own family (in a prodigal son sort of way) and also shaking up several marriages in the neighboring farms.

Up to this point, I was very interested and engaged, but though I knew everything was going down hill, I was not prepared for the nasty turn that some (actually most) of the characters would take. A little over half way through the book, I was so sickened by the characters who were either despicable people or horribly damaged people that I did not want to pick up the book. I really don't like reading books where everyone is miserable and also are bad people. But I kept going and in the end I'm glad I finished it. There isn't much redemption for any of the characters and there's no way to wrap up neatly what happens in this book, but I appreciated the writing and character development (even though I didn't like the characters) and it did leave me thinking. It's certainly a memorable book, though it's not really leaving me wanting to rush out and read more of Jane Smiley's work.

I'm edging on the high side with my star rating because I think that down the road my opinion will improve. We shall see. ( )
1 vote japaul22 | Dec 13, 2014 |
I tried really hard because this was supposed to be a great book that everybody loved, but I was bored. I hated all the characters and by page 207 nothing had actually happened yet, so I put it down. ( )
  LAKobow | Nov 10, 2014 |
This novel of life on a farm in the plains is unforgettable for me. It seems like they have very plain, farmy lives until secrets start to come out. ( )
  saradiann | Jun 29, 2014 |
Read for my first book club. ( )
  EllenH | Jun 17, 2014 |
Original post at Book Rhapsody.



When I was still the editor-in-chief of our college publication, I hauled all the books that I own to our office. I had a little difficulty in doing so because first, the security guards questioned me, and second, they were heavy. At that time, I had around 100 books. The reason I put my books there is to spark an interest in reading among my staffers.

It was not a huge success, but I got three of them to read. One read The Road by Cormac McCarthy, which was not finished, another The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton, which I doubt was finished, and this novel, which didn’t suit the reader’s taste, and which was not also finished.

I was almost furious, but hey, I can’t hold it against them. If they like reading those commercialized and popular books, that’s okay with me. I just wanted them to expand their reading with such books. I have little idea why the last one didn’t like this novel. Let’s see.

The Rhapsody

It opened with a rather lengthy description of how flat Iowa was, how there were no slopes anywhere, how the roads just went on and on. I am quite sure it was Iowa, with the rolling fields of maybe wheat. I remember myself also having trouble trying to read the opening paragraph. One or two sentences would have sufficed for the novice reader, but a whole page?

Now that I look back, I think the author was trying to show us how flat the lives of the protagonists led. Or that there’s something lurking underneath the surface of this flat back drop. Or both.

The story was told in the point of view of Ginny, the middle sister. The oldest was Rose, the youngest Carol. Carol no longer lived with them; I think she was practicing law in the city. The remaining two were left with their husbands and father.

Ginny and Rose used to love the same man. I think his name was Jesse. Of course, I am unreliable at this. Anyway, the past and the present intertwined with the turn of events. Clues from the past were revealed one by one to show the reader why the characters came to act and think that way.

Then there’s this part were Ginny got so mad at Rose. I think it had something to do with stealing boyfriends. Ginny and Jesse were the original lovers, but Rose somehow interfered. I don’t think either of the girls married Jesse. Or maybe Rose divorced that guy. Anyway, Ginny tried to kill her boyfriend-stealing sister by mixing a poisonous herb in a bottle of sauerkraut. I remember this distinctly because I didn’t see it coming. All the clues in the earlier chapters were there, but they just seemed like mundane actions. And this is, I think, why that staffer got bored reading this novel.

But Rose didn’t eat that despite her love for that food. Is it a German food made of pickled cabbage? So she put that bottle in the storage room, forgot it, then died instead of breast cancer.

So is that it? The girls also fought over the inheritance of the land that their father left after he died. Rose and Ginny ganged up on Carol, who was absent for the most part of the novel. And in her arrival, explosive secrets were revealed, particularly the rapes of their father to her daughters. Carol. Rose. And Ginny.

And they seemed like they all lived peacefully under the rule of their grumpy, old father. That’s all that I can remember. And the last line: This is the gleaming obsidian shard I safeguard above all others. I don’t know why that line was etched in my mind. The revelation must be that intense for me to still know these last words. I even double checked by googling.

Final Notes

The father’s rape and his daughters’ response. Is it condoning? Is it the loss of self-respect? Is it indifference? It’s really complicated. How will you expect a woman raped by her own father to act? Should you expect her to cry for mercy, to leave and never return, to act like nothing happened, or to forgive and protect her father?

The blurb said that it is an explosive, and indeed, it was. I think the rape incident was only revealed at the last few pages, or even the last one. After the last punctuation, you understand the characters’ hostility against each other, and then get confused on why they chose to stay together. Except for Carol.

So the three reacted differently to their own respective rapes. Now that I remember their father, I now conclude that he is the most disgusting character that I ever read. I never liked him to begin with, and you could not imagine the rage I had when I discovered what he did to his own daughters.

There are some incestuous relationships which do not seem so bad, like One Hundred Years of Solitude and War and Peace. But they are only between cousins, not sons and daughters.

I think I have to stop now. I feel strongly against this. I have a feeling that I will just rant on and on in circles. ( )
  angusmiranda | Jun 10, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 68 (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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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 Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:17:42 -0400)

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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.

(summary from another edition)

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