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A Thousand Acres
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A Thousand Acres

3.5 62
by Jane Smiley

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—Chicago Sun-Times
When Larry Cook, the aging patriarch of a rich, thriving farm in Iowa, decides to retire, he offers his land to his three daughters. For Ginny and Rose, who live on the farm with their husbands, the gift makes sense—a reward for years of hard work, a challenge to make the farm even more


—Chicago Sun-Times
When Larry Cook, the aging patriarch of a rich, thriving farm in Iowa, decides to retire, he offers his land to his three daughters. For Ginny and Rose, who live on the farm with their husbands, the gift makes sense—a reward for years of hard work, a challenge to make the farm even more successful. But the youngest, Caroline, a Des Moines lawyer, flatly rejects the idea, and in anger her father cuts her out—setting off an explosive series of events that will leave none of them unchanged. A classic story of contemporary American life, A THOUSAND ACRES strikes at the very heart of what it means to be a father, a daughter, a family.
"While she has written beautifully about families in all of her seven preceding books, [this] effort is her best: a family portrait that is also a near-epic investigation into the broad landscape, the thousand dark acres, of the human heart."
—The Washington Post Book World
"A full, commanding novel . . . This is a story bound and tethered to a lonely road in the Midwest, but drawn from a universal source. . . . A profoundly American novel.1
—The Boston Globe
—The New York Times Book Review
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the NBCC Award for fiction, a BOMC dual main selection and a five-week PW bestseller in cloth, Smiley's novel of family life on an insular Iowa farm raises profound questions about human conduct and moral responsibility. (Nov.)
Library Journal
This important new novel by the author of Ordinary Love and Good Will ( LJ 9/15/89) and The Greenlanders ( LJ 4/15/88) is, first of all, a farm novel. Smiley lovingly creates an idyllic world of family farm life in Iowa in 1979: the neat yard, freshly painted house, clean clothes on the line, and fertile, well-tended fields. The owner of these well-managed acres is Larry Cook, who abruptly decides to turn the farm over to his two eldest daughters and their husbands. Ginny and Ty are hard-working farmers who try to placate her ornery father, while sister Rose and hard-drinking Pete try to stand up to him. Dark secrets surface after the property transfer, and the family's careful world unravels with a grim inevitability reminiscent of Smiley's splendid novella Good Will . Not to be missed. BOMC main selection.-- Ann H. Fisher, Radford P.L., Va.
Kirkus Reviews
Lear in Iowa. In a scalding, 20th-century version of Shakespeare's tragedy, Smiley—clawing open the "ingratitude" of a monarch's elder daughters to reveal a rage that could out-tempest Lear's—once again examines the buried secret hurts within families and the deadly results when damaged egos are unleashed: "The one thing...maybe no family could tolerate was things coming out into the open." Living under the iron order of that tyrannical, successful farmer Larry Cook, owner of 640 Iowa acres, are: daughter Rose, 34- year-old recovering cancer patient, mother of two and wife of ex- musician Pete, the perennial outsider, object of Larry's contempt; and childless Ginny, married to Tyler, an easygoing man who can betray with silence. Youngest daughter Caroline, whom motherless Rose and Ginny had raised and unfettered from Daddy, is a lawyer in Des Moines. It's at a well-liquored neighborhood social that Daddy announces he's giving up his farm to his three daughters. "I don't know," says cool lawyer Caroline, and Daddy slams off in a fury. As Rose and Ginny and their pleased husbands prepare for a release from Daddy's overlordship, something else is released when Rose—scenting out weakness in the terrible old man—hungers for revenge at last. Nothing but Daddy's repentance will do for deeds in the past so foul that Ginny has blotted out the memory and Rose has kept her silence. Circling around Rose's sizzling path toward impossible satisfaction, with Ginny in tow, are their husbands—one blunted, one death-bound—and a self-exiled native son who will drive a wedge between the two sisters, mingling a hate and lust/love that brings one to murder. As forDaddy's angel Caroline—come back to flight for Daddy (senile? maybe), never battered by home maelstroms—he's been simply a father "no more, no less." With the Bard's peak moments—the storm, a blinding, etc.—a potent tragedy immaculate in characters, stately pace, and lowering ambiance. (Book-of-the-Month Split Main Selection for January)

From the Publisher
“Brilliant. . . . Absorbing. . . . A thrilling work of art.” —Chicago Sun-Times

“A family portrait that is also a near-epic investigation into the broad landscape, the thousand dark acres of the human heart. . . . The book has all the stark brutality of a Shakespearean tragedy.” —The Washington Post Book World

“Powerful and poignant.” —The New York Times Book Review

“Superb. . . . There seems to be nothing Smiley can’t write about fabulously well.” —San Francisco Chronicle

“It has been a long time since a novel so surprised me with its power to haunt. . . . A Thousand Acres [has] the prismatic quality of the greatest art.” —Chicago Tribune

“Absorbing. . . . Exhilarating. . . . An engrossing piece of fiction.” —Time

“A full, commanding novel. . . . A story bound and tethered to a lonely road in the Midwest, but drawn from a universal source. . . . Profoundly American.” —The Boston Globe

Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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5.17(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.80(d)

Read an Excerpt

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. Cabot Street Road was really just another country blacktop, except that five miles west it ran into and out of the town of Cabot. On the western edge of Cabot, it became Zebulon County Scenic Highway, and ran for three miles along the curve of the Zebulon River, before the river turned south and the Scenic continued west into Pike. The T intersection of CR 686 perched on a little rise, a rise nearly as imperceptible as the bump in the center of an inexpensive plate.

From that bump, the earth was unquestionably flat, the sky unquestionably domed, and it seemed to me when I was a child in school, learning about Columbus, that in spite of what my teacher said, ancient cultures might have been onto something. No globe or map fully convinced me that Zebulon County was not the center of the universe. Certainly, Zebulon County, where the earth was flat, was one spot where a sphere (a seed, a rubber ball, a ballbearing) must come to perfect rest and once at rest must send a taproot downward into the ten-foot-thick topsoil.

Because the intersection was on this tiny rise, you could see our buildings, a mile distant, at the southern edge of the farm. A mile to the east, you could see three silos that marked the northeastern corner, and if you raked your gaze from the silos to the house and barn, then back again, you would take in the immensity of the piece of land my father owned, six hundred forty acres, a whole section, paid for, no encumbrances, as flat and fertile, black, friable, and exposed as any piece of land on the face of theearth.

If you looked west from the intersection, you saw no sign of anything remotely scenic in the distance. That was because the Zebulon River had cut down through topsoil and limestone, and made its pretty course a valley below the level of the surrounding farmlands. Nor, except at night, did you see any sign of Cabot. You saw only this, two sets of farm buildings surrounded by fields. In the nearer set lived the Ericsons, who had daughters the ages of my sister Rose and myself, and in the farther set lived the Clarks, whose sons, Loren and Jess, were in grammar school when we were in junior high. Harold Clark was my father's best friend. He had five hundred acres and no mortgage. The Ericsons had three hundred seventy acres and a mortgage.

Acreage and financing were facts as basic as the name and gender in Zebulon County. Harold Clark and my father used to argue at our kitchen table about who should get the Ericson land when they finally lost their mortgage. I was aware of this whenever I played with Ruthie Ericson, whenever my mother, my sister Rose, and I went over to help can garden produce, whenever Mrs. Ericson brought over some pies or doughnuts, whenever my father loaned Mr. Ericson a tool, whenever we ate Sunday dinner in the Ericson's kitchen. I recognized the justice of Harold Clark's opinion that the Ericson' land was on his side of the road, but even so, I thought it should be us. For one thing, Dinah Ericson's bedroom had a window seat in the closet that I coveted. For another, I thought it appropriate and desirable that the great circle of the flat earth spreading out from the T intersection of County Road 686 and Cabot Street be ours. A thousand acres. It was that simple.

It was 1951 and I was eight when I saw the farm and the future in this way. That was the year my father bought his first car, a Buick sedan with prickly gray velvet seats, so rounded and slick that it was easy to slide off the backseat into the footwell when we went over a stiff bump or around a sharp corner. That was also the year my sister Caroline was born, which was undoubtedly the reason my father bought the car. The Ericson Children and the Clark children continued to ride in the back of the farm pickup, but the Cook children kicked their toes against a front seat and stared out the back windows, nicely protected from the dust. The car was the exact measure of six hundred forty acres compared to three hundred or five hundred.

In spite of the price of gasoline, we took a lot of rides that year, something farmers rarely do, and my father never again did after Caroline was born. For me, it was a pleasure like a secret hoard of coins--Rose, whom I adored, sitting against me in the hot musty velvet luxury of the car's interior, the click of the gravel on its undercarriage, the sensation of the car swimming in the rutted road, the farms passing every minute, reduced from vastness to insignificance by our speed; the unaccustomed sense of leisure; most important, though, the reassuring note of my father's and mother's voices commenting on what they saw--he on the progress of the yearly work and the condition of the animals in the pastures, she on the look and size of the house and garden, the colors of the buildings. Their tones of voice were unhurried and self-confident, complacent with the knowledge that the work at our place was farther along, the buildings at our place more imposing and better cared for. When I think of them now, I think how they had probably seen nearly as little of the world as I had by that time. But when I listened to their duet then, I nestled into the certainty of the way, through the repeated comparisons, our farm and our lives seemed secure and good.

Copyright 1992 by Jane Smiley

Meet the Author

Jane Smiley is the author of numerous novels, including A Thousand Acres, which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize, and most recently, Golden Age, the concluding volume of The Last Hundred Years trilogy. She is also the author of five works of nonfiction and a series of books for young adults. A member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, she has also received the PEN Center USA Lifetime Achievement Award for Literature. She lives in Northern California.

Brief Biography

Northern California
Date of Birth:
September 26, 1949
Place of Birth:
Los Angeles, California
B.A. in English, Vassar College, 1971; M.A., Iowa University, 1975; M.F.A, 1976; Ph.D., 1978

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Thousand Acres 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 62 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I do agree that the author did a nice job with the setting and characters, and I was certainly drawn in to the plot. There is no doubt it was well written however, I was left asking why it was written? In the end, I wasn't sure what I was supposed to take away from this book. It was one of the most dissapointing books I've ever read (and I have read a lot). I'm shocked people described it as the best book they've ever read. It really goes to show you how different people can be. I would ask yourself why you read a book. If the answer is to be entertained, to learn something, or to find hope, I would not reccomend this book. I was left with a giant hole in my heart for every single character in this book. I choose not to believe that life is this hopeless.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley is a Pulitzer Prize winner and a recipient of the 1992 National Book Critics Circle Award. The novel is a contemporary retelling of Shakespeare's play King Lear set on an Iowa farm during the 1980s. Narrated from the point of view of one of three daughters of the farm owner, she exposes the reader to the dark and unflattering reality of farm life in rural America. The father is cruel and abusive towards his daughters, setting the depressing and dark mood of the novel. As the father gets older, he becomes aware that maintaining the farm is more difficult than before. He therefore decides to divide the ownership of the family's one thousand-acre farm among his three daughters, leading to a series of events that unravel the family's darkest secrets. A Thousand Acres turned out to be a disappointing read considering all the awards and titles it has earned. Overall, Jane Smiley deserves credit for attempting to create a modern version of the Shakespeare play King Lear. However, though Smiley's concept was brilliant, the content of the novel does not meet the brilliance of her idea of creating a King Lear on an Iowan farm in the 1980s. From the beginning, the novel lacks action and has excess detail and descriptions used to build up the complex characters, allowing the storyline to drag along. The novel is enough to spoil the reader's mood and it may be disturbing and inappropriate for younger readers. Everything from paternal abuse, sexual abuse, incest, death, rape, and miscarriages happen on the thousand-acre farm. Certainly, A Thousand Acres is not a lighthearted, easy-read novel, and its dark themes and events listed previously may appeal to only select readers.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Unlike some other customer reviewers, I really liked this book. No, it's not an easy read, and it's not a "feel good story." It is literature. The cadence of Smiley's prose pulls the reader into the smothering world of the rural farmer, and the events that unfold are shocking. The parallels to Lear aee ambitious and effective. Highly recommend.
isitworthmytime More than 1 year ago
Life is too short for this read. I tried to give this book a chance as it was recommended by a friend. i did like the first half of the book where life on the farm was slowed down and the characters were developed so nicely. It was difficult to stay with the book after the father's meltdown. It did anger me that the alleged violation of the main character was not devastating to her, that she doubted it had happened at all and went on with her routine. I guess that was the point. But her continued pursuit of her love interest reminded me of a school girl obsession and was tiresome. I kept waiting for something to happen and it didnt. Again i guess thats the point. When she started making the jarred sausages this book became a mad fantasy and i could not connect to it anymore. I get in the end she was just like her father but really was that all? I wished i had spent a few days on something i would want to pass on to a friend. This was no a pass on. This was a pass over.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I chose to read this book because it was a pultizer prize winner. I am almost to the half way point of the book and I'm completely sick of reading it. I'm glad I did not have to read this book for a school assignment. After reading the first few chapters I continued to read thinking to myself that the story is going to get better, but it has not. In my opinion, if a reader has not reached the juicy meaty part after arriving halfway through the book, the book is not worth reading any further.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was good, but it lacked emotionality. It could have been a tear jerker, but something was missing. This book was NOT worthy of a Pulitzer!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book tells the fascinating journey of one seemingly boring (on the outside) farmwife's life in Iowa. It tells the story of a family and all the large and small betrayals they inflict on each other. This story kept me rapt. Lots of twists and turns. Loved it!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was merely curious when I picked this book up from my sisters shelf and had decided to 'idly' leaf through it. I soon found myself reading in rapture. I think this book lends a different perspective as to how we live in our hearts, with our families living under one roof and eventually leaving the place we had grown up in, our relationships with our parents and siblings, how we interact with our neighbors and the community and general. It makes us realize what we are willing to cover about ourselves, the truths about us and our family, what we could also call our 'skeletons in our closets'. It also makes us think if we want to run away from that life, that experience or if we want to keep a blind eye to it, deny it ever happened pretend the pain, the confusion had never existed or if we face that evil and if we decide to face it. And if we do, do we have the courage to face it or will we crumble? Try to read this!
Guest More than 1 year ago
i studies this book as a comparitive literary study with king lear in college, and i have to say that it is probably one of the most dull and badly written books i have read. yes it provides a different perspective, but was king lear really written from the male perspective in the first place? it is a play after all, not a novel! smiley didn't provide much action, i felt like most of the book was based on overly emphasising themes that she must have picked up on when she studied king lear. overall, not a very good book. adaptations rarely are, if it isn't broke, don't fix it!
Guest More than 1 year ago
i thought it was very boring highly NOT recommended.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Maybe you have to get some living under your belt to appreciate this marvelous novel. It is so realistic, so emotionally dramatic [that's where the action is, INSIDE the people], so exceedingly accurate in the way the characters intereact and are described. It is so TRUE. Smiley did a great job and this work seems to sum up all parts of the U.S. in the late 20th century, even though it is set in the midwest. It gets to the core of what life is about--bonds, hard work, heartbreak, and rebirth.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I played Edmund in my college's production of 'King Lear' during my senior year. When you spend eight weeks rehearsing a play, it sticks with you. When I picked up 'A Thousand Acres,' it had been recommended to me by a friend who didn't know King Lear from Norman Lear -- but as soon as I realized what Jane Smiley had done by recasting Shakespeare's tragedy in the Great Plains, I was riveted. This isn't just an update of the story, but a retelling and repurposing. In Shakespeare's play, Goneril and Regan are heartless and evil. Smiley's novel is written from Ginny's point of view, and she and her sister Rose are given sympathetic motivations, proving that there are indeed two sides to every story. 'A Thousand Acres' changed the way I see 'King Lear' forever ...
Guest More than 1 year ago
This novel was overly written and that she seemed to try to hard when writing this, it really annoyed me that she had to explain every detail about every thing, i took her a whole chapter to explain where they live. so i felt that this was a tediously long novel. i also think that Smiley needs to come up with her own ideas because it really annoys me when authors cant come with their own plot!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I saw the film first. Then I read the book. I loved the film and I thought the book was one of the best I've ever read and probably ever will. I enjoyed it so much. I connected with the farm living and Southern feel. I loved reading about the conflicts and the family problems. I related to all of this. Smiley wrote an amazing book that should be shared with everyone. This book deserved all the critical praise it got. I'm glad I got to experience it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A patchwork Lear and his cursed daughters come to life again in this stunning modernization of Shakespeare's play. A story of secrets and skeletons that grips the reader and does not let go.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A story told by an analytical, introspective and hard working farm family. Well worth reading.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Maria walked her cat along the park trail. She waved to Oliver.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
She yawns
SUEHAV More than 1 year ago
A waste of my time. Pulitzer???
sainthelenaislandman More than 1 year ago
Lovely, seamless prose that transports you back to rural America. Ms. Smiley is a gifted writer, able through nuanced dialogue and subtle contextual descriptions to take you to a simpler place populated with a wide span of family and neighbors. Three cheers.
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