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Barn Blind: A Novel by Jane Smiley

Barn Blind: A Novel (edition 1993)

by Jane Smiley

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Title:Barn Blind: A Novel
Authors:Jane Smiley
Info:Ballantine Books (1993), Paperback, 224 pages
Collections:Your library

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Barn Blind by Jane Smiley


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From: Summer on a Mid-western Horse Farm
Barn Blind, Jane Smiley (1980).

Jane Smiley’s debut novel Barn Blind (1980) is an intimate look at a family in turmoil—Katy and Alex Karlson and their 4 teenage children operate Kate’s horse farm in the mid-west; they are caring for 40 thoroughbred horses on the 300 acre farm. There is plenty of work for all, but Kate is a demanding boss and money is scarce.

The Pony Clubbers, pre-teens and teenagers learning horsemanship, provide the needed low-cost labor to clean barns, exercise horses and tidy the tack room. They do their chores to learn, not earn, but sometimes Kate takes advantage of their adolescent love for horses to overcharge the parents.

On Sunday the family goes to a small Catholic church near the farm. Kate got religion late in life, after her children were born, but, once converted, religious ardor infused her life. Alex refused to convert, causing a split between the two: Kate couldn’t forgive Alex; she moved to a separate bedroom, and there would be no further intimacies. Alex had tolerated that situation for 14 years because he loved her, but this summer his tolerance and love would be tested.

Kate ignores Margaret’s need for understanding and tenderness; Margaret becomes a weeper, subject to uncontrollable crying. Henry, the youngest, runs away from home during a horse show, but returns to watch John perform in the cross-country event. John, the 15 year old, has temper problems and punishes his horse. Peter struggles to meet Kate’s demands for excellence, hoping for affection in return.

In spite of the problems, a tenuous balance exists as the family copes with their inner devils and the hard physical labor of running Kate’s horse farm, training horses and holding equestrian classes in dressage. The Family Horse Show at the end of summer will upset the balance once and for all.

Kate is barn blind – She cannot see the consequences of her overzealous focus on the horse farm and dressage events. The will be tragic consequences for her family. Are you tired of reading about pushy, over-ambitious fathers? Read Barn Blind to get a good look at the pushy mother.

The author’s sensitive and insightful writing and her attention to detail make this story a delight to read. Along the way, the reader will get to know each member of this family well, but be prepared to learn the language of equestrian shows and horse farms.

Note: The United States Equestrian Federation, USEF, trains, selects, and funds our United States Equestrian Team which consistently wins medals at the highest level of international competition, including the Olympic Games. The USEF also licenses equestrian competitions of all levels across the United States each year. Pony Club is a youth horsemanship organization associated with USEF.

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  cartoslibrary | Jul 14, 2011 |
Let me begin by saying that Jane Smiley appears to be a talented writer. I have never read anything by her before, but her ability comes through this title. Even if the title itself has a horrible collection of characters and cringe worthy plot development. I found myself actively disliking each character, and as one became sympathetic, something would happen to harden me against them again. Let’s analyze – Mom: egotistical control freak mastering the art of conditional love. Dad: enabler. Kids: self centered individually and collectively jealous of each other competing for their parents’ attention.

The entire story revolves around their family horse farm in Illinois, and as a born and bred Illinoisan, I found the continual comparisons of Illinois as inferior to the east coast increasingly offensive, but that’s me being petty. But the horsing world plays a MAJOR part of this book. Since I know nothing about horses, other than some $2 betting at Arlington Race Track when I was a kid, I did not appreciate the clear knowledge the author had of this topic. For an equestrian, that may help carry this book further, but for me, I found I just wanted it to end so I could be free of the dysfunction.

Since I am confident that Smiley intended all of this, she gets full credit for achieving her goal – but for actual reading enjoyment, it falls flat for me. ( )
  pbadeer | Oct 30, 2010 |
Her first novel. I didn't have much hope for it and never would have bought it myself (it was a gift) because her books written prior to A Thousand Acres have not been very good. However, this was wonderful. A horse farm family, four children. The four children wonderfully done. Really beautiful. These are not like people I know, but completely believeable and interesting.
  marysargent | May 12, 2007 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0449908747, Paperback)

The verdant pastures of a farm in Illinois have the placid charm of a landscape painting. But the horses that graze there have become the obsession of a woman who sees them as the fulfillment of every wish: to win, to be honored, to be the best. Her ambition is the galvanizing force in Jane Smiley's first novel, a force that will drive a wedge between her and her family, and bring them all to tragedy.
Written with the grace and quiet beauty of her Pulitzer-Prize-winning novel, A Thousand Acres, Barn Blind is a spellbinding story on the classic American themes of work, love, and duty, and the excesses we commit to achieve success.
"Chilling . . . Jane Smiley handles with skill and understanding the mercurial molasses of adolescence, and the inchoate, cumbersome love that family members feel for one another."
-- The New York Times

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:34 -0400)

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The horses have become an obsession with her, a force that will drive a wedge between her and her family, and bring them all to tragedy.

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