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

by Jane Smiley

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
4,707911,002 (3.71)279
Member:gaskella
Title:A Thousand Acres: A Novel
Authors:Jane Smiley
Info:Anchor (2003), Edition: Reprint, Paperback
Collections:Your library, Prize-winners
Rating:
Tags:Pulitzer prize, Family drama, Small town USA, Fiction

Work details

A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley (1991)

  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. 10
    Plainsong by Kent Haruf (lyzadanger)
    lyzadanger: Similar treatment of broad-open landscapes and middle American family values.
  3. 00
    1606 : William Shakespeare and the year of Lear by James Shapiro (amarie)
    amarie: Insight into King Lear source and everything else happening that year.
  4. 00
    The Lobster Kings by Alexi Zentner (kjgormley)
    kjgormley: They are both King Lear retellings.
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English (87)  French (2)  Swedish (1)  All languages (90)
Showing 1-5 of 87 (next | show all)
This is a wonderful page turner. A very long book, but it is enjoyable every page and Jane Smiley is a great writer.
  Jan7Smith | Jul 19, 2016 |
This is an amazing character-driven story. I remember faintly the decent movie adaptation twenty years ago, but I was much more ready to read it now with greater understanding of life in general and of King Lear especially. But back in Iowa, A Thousand Acres is a family tragedy that I think is probably familiar for so many on American farms. Families have not been able to compete and thrive with the old ways, which rears its head perfectly in the time period of this novel.

As for old Lear, I've now seen the play several times and liked getting to know the blustery old man who learns a very hard lesson. What was fascinating and vital for this retelling was how the author I believe turned almost every character opposite to their play counterpart's traditional interpretation. The good daughter turns out to be petty and naive, the bad daughters are beset by terrible circumstances but work so hard to overcome it all. Even the other families switch places as the moral supporter who is hatefully blinded instead is terrible and calculating even before just an accident.

There is resolution, but like any tragedy, the "stage" is littered with dead bodies and dying dreams. ( )
  amarie | Jun 23, 2016 |
As many reviewers have said: this story starts slow. But I felt that every word was necessary for the incisive portrait Smiley painted of each of the characters. She captures the inner workings of close-mouthed, emotionally repressed farm people so perfectly you feel like you are inside of their skins. There is a subtle genius in the telling of the mundane details of farm life and the way the narrator uses it to hide from her own feelings.

This is a retelling of King Lear, so I was familiar with the basic plot, but I was still anxious to see what would happen next when events started spiraling out of control. I was grouchy every time I had to put it down and couldn’t wait to get back to the story. I look forward to seeing the Jessica Lange movie that was made in the 90s.
( )
  memccauley6 | May 3, 2016 |
An excellent read. I felt very caught up in this family tale. A powerful message about a community's misguided perception of an apparently successful, God-fearing, hardworking farmer. The reader bears witness to the disintegration of the family and the forced sale of the thousand acres, accumulated over three generations.
Another book which reveals the dark side of the American Dream. ( )
  HelenBaker | Apr 14, 2016 |
I was always aware, I think, of the water in the soil, the way it travels from particle to particle, molecules adhering, clustering, evaporating, heating, cooling, freezing, rising upward to the surface and fogging the cool air or sinking downward, dissolving this nutrient and that, quick in everything it does, endlessly working and flowing, a river sometimes, a lake sometimes. When I was very young, I imagined it ready at any time to rise and cover the earth again, except for the tile lines. Prairie settlers always saw a sea or an ocean of grass, could never think of any other metaphor, since most of them had lately seen the Atlantic. The Davises did find a shimmering sheet punctuated by cattails and sweet flag. The grass is gone, now, and the marshes, “the big wet prairie,” but the sea is still beneath our feet, and we walk on it.

Jane Smiley translated the timeless elements of Shakespeare's King Lear to a Midwestern farm family. In many respects, Smiley's adaptation improves on Shakespeare's Lear. Larry Cook owns one of the most productive farms in Iowa's Zebulon County – one thousand acres resulting from the consolidation of several adjoining acreages. The widower Cook farms with the assistance of two sons-in-law, the husbands of two of his three daughters. Cook's sudden decision to incorporate the farm and cede control to his daughters and sons-in-law is the first in a chain of events that leads to tragedy. The return of draft dodger Jess Clark, prodigal son of Cook's neighbor, Harold Clark, becomes a catalyst for growing feelings of discontent in Cook's eldest daughter, Ginny, the first-person narrator. As sisters Ginny and Rose and their husbands extend themselves beyond their means, the family rift grows, and their neighbors in the small farming community choose sides.

The Midwest farm crisis was an inspired choice as the modern setting for this tragedy. This was a period when many multi-generation family farms were lost to corporations. Many smaller tragedies took place throughout the Midwest during this time period. Smiley's novel carries an authenticity that will resonate with readers with ties to the Midwest and its farmers. Highly recommended. ( )
  cbl_tn | Mar 19, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 87 (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 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.

(summary from another edition)

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