A Thousand Acres

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Overview

"BRILLIANT . . . A THRILLING WORK OF ART."
—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 ...
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A Thousand Acres: A Novel

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Overview

"BRILLIANT . . . A THRILLING WORK OF ART."
—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
"A TOUR DE FORCE."
—Newsweek
"POWERFUL AND POIGNANT."
—The New York Times Book Review
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize

The author of The Age of Grief and Ordinary Love and Good Will has written a breakthrough novel--winner of the Pulitzer Prize in fiction. When an Iowa patriarch decides to turn over his thriving farm to his three daugters, he sets off a series of tragic events that will eventually rip apart his family.

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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

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781560543619
  • Publisher: Gale Group
  • Publication date: 11/10/1992
  • Pages: 670
  • Product dimensions: 5.71 (w) x 8.74 (h) x 1.26 (d)

Meet the Author

Jane Smiley is the author of more than ten works of fiction, including Good Faith, Horse Heaven, Moo, and The Greenlanders. In 2001 she was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She lives in northern California.

Biography

Jane smiley is the author of many novels, including A Thousand Acres, which won the Pulitzer Prize, and Horse Heaven. She lives in Northern California. In 2001, she was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Author biography courtesy of Random House, Inc.

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

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
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Reading Group Guide

PULITZER PRIZE WINNER
National Book Critics Circle Award Winner

NATIONAL BESTSELLER

"Brilliant. . . . absorbing. . . . A thrilling work of art." —Chicago Sun-Times

The introduction, discussion questions, suggested reading list, and author biography that follow are intended to enhance your group's reading of A Thousand Acres, the extraordinary novel that established Jane Smiley as one of America's greatest writers.

1. How does the symbiotic relationship between person and place addressed in Ms. Smiley's choice of epigraph play itself out in the novel? How does setting shape character and vice versa? Which seems to have the upper hand? How is Zebulon County itself a major character in A Thousand Acres?

2. What are the strengths and weaknesses of Ginny's narration? Is she able to maintain clarity and candor throughout her chronicling of events? What gets in the way? Is she as forthcoming in portraying herself as she is in discussing others? Why or why not? How would the novel differ if told from the perspective of Rose, Caroline, Jess, or Larry?

3. At the outset of the novel, Ginny confesses that retrospection has not revealed too much about the drama that unfolded when her father decided to hand over the farm to Rose and her and leave out Caroline: "I've thought over every moment of that party time and time again, sifting for pointers, signals, ways of knowing how to do things differently from the way they got done. There were no clues" [p. 13]. To what extent does the story that she then tells undermine this claim? What remains a mystery despite her scrutiny?

4. What are the most tragic elements of A Thousand Acres? Whichof these elements are rooted in the exercise of an individual's will, and which seem attributable to something beyond the scope of human volition? Where does the novel ultimately situate itself in the enduring fate v. free will debate?

5. What do you see as Smiley's debt to Shakespeare's King Lear? Where do the two works part ways? What provides A Thousand Acres with its autonomy despite its borrowed plot and characters?

6. Which of the issues explored in A Thousand Acres are unique to rural life in America? Which resonate regardless of geography? What does the novel reveal about variations and consistencies in the so-called American character?

7. What are a few of the guises in which passion appears in A Thousand Acres? What seems to lie at the root of each guise? Which do the most damage? Why do some characters yield to a desire for authority, acreage, etc., while others resist such temptations? Is there greater freedom in following passion or in checking it? What does the novel teach us about the nature of passion, restraint, and indulgence?

8. The interior lives of Caroline as well as Larry remain relatively unexamined compared to those of Rose and Ginny, their spouses, and Jess. What is the dramatic and thematic significance of keeping these characters in the shadows?

9. Contemplating her father's momentous decision, Ginny marvels at its apparent rashness. "He decided to change his whole life on Wednesday!" she exclaims. "Objectively, this is an absurdity" [p. 34]. Her remark points to the struggle against the whims of chance that appears throughout A Thousand Acres. How does the deliberate adherence to daily routine help the characters to weather the vicissitudes of the natural world and the inconsistency of human nature? What kind of solace and safety, if any, do seasonal chores and rituals provide?

10. Discuss the myriad ways that motherhood—and fatherhood—are weighed in the novel. How does Ginny's ineluctable desire to give birth shape her view of her present and past? What meaning does she derive from the many surrogate-maternal roles she plays? In what ways is her mother's long absence a constant presence?

11. "Our bond had a peculiar fertility that I was wise enough to appreciate, and also, perhaps, wise enough to appreciate in silence," Ginny says. "Rose wouldn't have stood for any sentimentality" [p. 62]. Reticence seems the norm among these characters, yet they express themselves in other ways. What nonverbal forms of communication do they use? What are the reach and limits of each? What are the perils and possibilities?

12. Is there a particular political view or ideology at work in A Thousand Acres? If so, what is it? Does viewing the novel through the lens of feminism, for example, limit or enlarge it? What do you see as the novelist's responsibility vis-a-vis politics? Does this work fall closer to agenda or inquiry?

13. "The first novel I ever knew was my family," writes Ms. Smiley in the afterword to Family: American Writers Remember Their Own (David McKay Co., 1997). "We had every necessary element, from the wealth of incident both domestic and historical, to the large cast of characters. We had geographical sweep and the requisite, for an American novel, adventure in the West." How can A Thousand Acres be interpreted as a meditation on family? How does the novel shed light on the dark corners of family life? How are the Cooks both anomalous to and representative of the average American family? What explains their tragic dissolution? What could have prevented it?

14. What are the advantages and disadvantages of a story that is told almost entirely in the past tense? How does this affect your interpretation of the novel?

15. Ginny is stilled by the disturbing thought that her own "endurance might be a pleasant fiction allowed [her] by others who've really faced facts" [p. 90]. Is it? Do you construe her story, i.e., the novel, as flight from a difficult reality or a means of confronting it? Why?

16. During a game of Monopoly, Jess describes Harold as someone who is "cannier and smarter than he lets on," then suggests that real freedom exists in "the slippage between what he looks like and what he is" [p. 109]. How does the relationship between appearance and reality drive the novel's action in terms of the meaning and direction of its characters' lives? What kind of importance does Jane Smiley assign to this relationship?

17. In what reads like a muted epiphany, Ginny considers the constant weight and exhaustion she felt in the months after her mother's death and then realizes that one reaches a point where "relief is good enough" [p. 198]. Is this remark an expression of resignation or true acceptance?

18. In a candid conversation with Rose, Ginny voices her inability to understand her father's abuse despite Rose's insistence that the matter is a simple case of "I want, I take, I do." Ginny says, "I can't believe it's that simple," to which Rose responds: "If you probe and probe and try to understand, it just holds you back" [p. 212]. What does this exchange reveal about the limitations of reason? About the possibility or impossibility of true catharsis? What options exist when the rational is exhausted?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 50 )
Rating Distribution

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 50 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 17, 2011

    Critique of A Thousand Acres...Not as good as expected

    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.

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 11, 2009

    What was the point?

    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.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 8, 2007

    Why did this book win the pultizer? Confused.

    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.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 12, 2006

    one of the most boring books i have read

    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!

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 3, 2005

    Another pulitzer given to an unworthy recepient

    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!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 28, 2005

    Jane tut tut tut

    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!!!

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 11, 2012

    An American Tragedy

    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.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 30, 2012

    I Also Recommend:

    Pass over this one.

    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.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 10, 2007

    liked it??? NO

    i thought it was very boring highly NOT recommended.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 9, 2011

    Easily the worest book I have ever read

    "A Thousand Acres" is a pulizter prize winner. Guessing they just give that out to anyone these days. The story manages to become boring, dragged out, and gross all at the same time. you start by being introduced the characters and the main conflict over dividing the farm, and than well... thats all that happens for the rest of the book. The characters are very unappling. The only one who hold any slight interest would be Jess Clark, and the narator and main character, Ginny, can be extremely annoying by never advancing the plot and simply complaining about feminist ideals. Throw in a few gross depictions of child molestation half-way through the book for no apparent reason and you get "A Thousand Acres". So if you into that kind of thing, buy the book. If you're one of the normal people on planet Earth, avoid it. If you get a school assignment for it, I am truely sorry.

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  • Posted February 17, 2010

    A well-written novel indeed.

    A Thousand Acres is an amazing novel, though not necessarily heart-warming or uplifting. Jane Smiley says a lot about human nature in this book, and even without critically analyzing the text, readers should feel the potency of her points. It's a great "reimagining" of King Lear; the story line is very engrossing and doesn't sound like a King Lear ripoff at all, but comparing the two stories side-by-side reveals a lot about both works and is something that readers should definitely do. The characters are well developed, the plot dramatic, and the writing style elegant. Thankfully, Smiley does not fall into the pitfall of trying to capture the Midwestern accent with convoluted writing involving confusing grammar and scattered apostrophes. This book provides a lot to think about and is enjoyable to read many times over.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 17, 2008

    Loved it

    I thought this book was extremely well-written and engaging. It's a great read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 4, 2007

    a good piece of literature!

    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!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 31, 2006

    One of the best books I have ever read

    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.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 7, 2005

    King Lear in the American Heartland

    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 ...

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 7, 2005

    Great writing, but missing some much needed clairification

    First, I haven't read King Lear, so I have no idea how it fares on that point. A Thousand Acres could have been a much more satisfying story if some of the arguments had had some type of resolution - good or bad. Some scenes were grandly built up and then just abandonded. Maybe that was the point, but if so, it really turned me off.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 3, 2004

    An amazing read. Unforgettable.

    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.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 31, 2004

    Lovely, painful novel

    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.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 27, 2004

    Overrated drivel

    I was told to read this book as the basis for some school assignments. While this may have been a detraction in and of itself, I still approached it with an open mind. As the story trudged on, however, I began to lose more and more interest. I quickly discovered that the characters, while realistically rendered, are either completely spineless and constantly whining, or blatantly antagonistic and aggravating. When one has an absolute lack of respect for the narrator, it makes a book difficult to pay attention to. Over half the book consists of the main character bowing down to the whims of her domineering father and complaining about it, over and over again. By the time I was 150 pages through this book I was simply praying that they would die and get it over with.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 19, 2003

    ASTOUNDING!!

    This book should ring bells in the psyches of any woman whose father 'needed' to disrespect women as a matter of course, as an incentive for getting up in the morning. Such subtle (and not so subtle) truths have seldom been told with such a talent for writing the English language. Surely Jane Smiley is one of America's very best fiction writers. I enjoyed this book thoroughly from first word to last.

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