Thursday, August 13, 2015

A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley

The second book in my 50 book reading challenge is A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley, a highly acclaimed novel that won the National Book Award in 1991 and the Pulitzer Prize in 1992.  A Thousand Acres was also made into a movie starring Jessica Lange and Michelle Pfeiffer which received not so great reviews but critics agree the novel itself is a masterpiece.  But be warned, this novel is very tragic, some would say on a Shakespearean level which is not a coincidence since A Thousand Acres is a modern retelling of Shakespeare's King Lear.

Jane Smiley has set A Thousand Acres in a rural farm community in Iowa.  The year is 1979 and Larry Cook is the wealthiest farmer in Zebulon County.  He has three grown daughters. The eldest two, Ginny and Rose live on their father's farm and with their husbands help him run his thousand acres, catering to his wishes and never challenging his authority.  The youngest, Caroline, is the only daughter who has moved away and shaped a different life for herself.

Then one day Larry Cook announces he is retiring and giving the farm to his three daughters. Ginny, Rose and their husbands are pleased to finally have something of their own but Caroline replies "I don't know".  Her father immediately cuts her out of the inheritance and gives the farm to Ginny and Rose setting the stage for all that is to come (which is considerable)

A Thousand Acres is about families and long buried secrets reverberating through many generations.  Its about fathers and daughters, husbands and wives, life in rural America, the perils of farming and how terrible accidents can happen in an instant and much more.  Utimately it's the story of Ginny and her sister Rose and the bond they share forged in childhood.  Ginny narrates the novel.  We see it all through her eyes as she looks back from a future time trying to understand what happened that fateful summer of 1979.

I wish I could quote the many passages that stood out for me in Jane Smiley's book but I feel hesitant without the okay of the author.  So I would say read A Thousand Acres for yourself.  If after 50 pages its not for you, no problem but I think you will be hooked.  It's a reading experience you won't soon forget.

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