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A Thousand Acres: A Novel Paperback – December 2, 2003


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; Reprint edition (December 2, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400033837
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400033836
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (283 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #16,154 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

If Smiley ( Ordinary Love & Good Will ) has previously been hailed for her insight into human nature, the moral complexity of her themes and her lucid and resonant prose, her new novel is her best yet, bringing together her extraordinary talents in a story of stunning insight and impact. "Our farm and our lives seemed secure and good," says narrator Ginny Cook, looking back on the summer before her father capriciously decided to turn over his prosperous 1000-acre Iowa farm to his three daughters and their mates. That was the same summer that Jess Clark, their neighbors' prodigal son, returned after a 13-year absence, romance and peril trailing in his wake. Although Ginny's existence as a farmer's wife and caretaker of her irascible, bullying, widower father is not easy, there are compensations in her good marriage, in the close companionship of her indomitable sister Rose, who lives across the road, and in sharing vicariously in the accomplishments of their younger sister, Caroline, a lawyer. Having managed to submerge her grief at being childless, passive Ginny has also hidden a number of darker secrets in her past. These shocking events work their way out of her subconscious in the dreadful aftermath of her father's decision to rescind his legacy, shouting accusations of filial betrayal. Like Lear's daughters, the Cook sisters each reveal their true natures in events that will leave readers gasping with astonishment. Smiley powerfully evokes the unrelenting, insular world of farm life, the symbiotic relationships between a farmer and his land as well as those among the other members of the rural community. She contrasts the stringencies of nature with those of human nature: the sting of sibling rivalry, the tensions of marriage, the psychological burdens of children, the passion of lovers. Her tightly controlled prose propels tension to nearly unbearable extremes--but always within the limits of credibility. In the end, she has raised profound questions about human conduct and moral responsibility, especially about family relationships and the guilt and bitterness they can foster. BOMC selection.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

I have a very difficult time NOT finishing books I start.
cailo
Rose has her anger and hatred, Ginny trying to forget what really happened, and Caroline who was so naive and young to know what her father was really like.
Corinne
I just finished reading Jane Smiley's astounding book A THOUSAND ACRES for the third time.
elizabeth Hipwell

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

102 of 117 people found the following review helpful By Glen Engel Cox on February 27, 2007
Format: Paperback
When this book was chosen by our book club for this month's theme of "tragedy," I approached reading it with some trepidation. There are a number of things that I don't care for in literature, and one of them is the family drama which centers on the drama as drama for its own sake, rather than to say something more about the world. Part of my bias against this kind of writing comes from having cut my eyeteeth on science fiction, the literature of ideas which, at its best, is about today as much as it is about a future. I also spent three years in a creative writing program where, god bless them, my fellow students seemed to spend a lot of time writing autobiographical stories that didn't have much to say beyond it sucks to grow up in fill-in-the-blank. The book had won a Pulitzer, and if there's anything I learned in my MFA classes on literature, an award was often a signal that a book was not for the reader but written for the critics. A Thousand Acres screamed to me from its cover that it was that kind of book, that focused on the dissolution of the family as seen through a retelling of the King Lear story. I shuddered.

But, really, I shouldn't have. Having previously read two books by Jane Smiley (the quite amusing MOO and the intelligent and thoughtful Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel), I should have given her the benefit of the doubt. Within the first fifty pages, I was surprised that Smiley had drawn me into her story, and while it was still fairly mundane (the family dog wasn't going to start talking on page 100, to my dismay), I found the voice of the narrator intriguing and wondered just how much of King Lear Smiley was going to be able to transpose to 1970s Iowa.
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55 of 62 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 15, 1999
Format: Paperback
I am a college student, and as a logical step after readingKing Lear in my literary analysis class, we then turned our focus on Athousand Acres. I can't say how glad I am that this book fell across my path. Throughout my book my opinions about the characters changed so often, that I didn't know who to trust and who was the good guy and who was the bad guy. I came in with the expectation that Larry and Caroline would be the heroes, and that even though Ginny was the narrator we would clearly realize that she is evil. However, the characterization in this book is so deep and intricate that it is nearly impossible to lable one character as truly evil, except for the surprising conclusion of Larry Cook, whom I hated with a passion. However, this book can not be read with the expectation that it will give the reader pleasure. Instead, it reaches into the very depths of your emotions and twists them around with so vigorous a hand that you are nearly sickened by some of the action in the story. This book has some of the greatest depth I have ever known in a novel, and incorporates many subjects and undertones into its plot.
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Format: Paperback
Most modern novels fail to surprise me. They telegraph where they are going in such obvious ways that I often feel I could write the next chapters and the ending before I read them. Jane Smiley in A Thousand Acres also telegraphs a lot . . . but underneath those obvious road signs, she's built a more powerful message for those who care to read between the lines. Although most people don't want to read a book as long and as dark as this one, it's well worth your while. The character and plot developments display an amazing set of symmetries that are works of genius.

Those who will love this book the most are people who know farm life in the American Middle West well. Having had a grandfather, father and several uncles who were farmers in Illinois raising lots of corn and hogs, I was first impressed by how well Ms. Smiley captured the attitudes, experiences, psychology and perspectives of the American family farmer during the 1930s through the 1980s. I felt like I was reading the history of my own family for about the first third of the book.

Then, she powerfully shifts the ground as the patriarch of the family, Larry Cook, decides to cede control over the family farm to avoid estate taxes. From there, a superficial reading will see this as a modern version of King Lear. I think that obvious parallel is not an accurate view of the book. Instead, this book takes on the qualities of a Greek tragedy as the characters move inexorably towards their preordained fates. What's the source of the tragedy? It's the pride of the American family farmer who lusts for more land and production.

In fact, this book could have been titled "Life Drains Away" as the forces set into action by the characters create an ironic threat to some of the same characters.
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74 of 90 people found the following review helpful By Douglas A. Greenberg VINE VOICE on February 27, 2000
Format: Paperback
As I read Jane Smiley's prize-winning novel, I tried my darnedest not to think about those much-ballyhooed parallels with *King Lear*. I find the "updated version of" phenomenon, which includes, for example, Helen Fielding's *Bridget* diary (*Price and Prejudice* update) to be gimmicky and distracting. Write your own novels, people!
That said, I can now declare that I think *A Thousand Acres* is a good, but not "great" novel. Jane Smiley is an excellent writer, and although the book starts a bit slowly, the momentum and intrigue build as pages fly by. Her ability to describe the landscapes, moods, and rhythms of midwestern farm life is commendable, and for me, this proved to be perhaps the most consistently satisfying aspect of the book.
The plot can only be described as "dark," perhaps excessively so to seem plausible. Incest, insanity, suicide, the casual plotting of vengeful murders--anything that might form the basis for an extended commentary on the possibilities for depravity in the Human Condition--it's all here! There is so much depravity here, in fact, that after a while I found myself (figuratively) rolling my eyes at each new twist in the plot. A bit over the top, Jane!
I confess that I found it dismaying that each and every male character in the book proved himself to be rotten, exhibiting behavior ranging anywhere from insensitive clottishness to manipulative and smarmy don Juanism to ranting, bullying, incest-practicing insanity. What a bunch of great guys! In all fairness, the women in the book aren't much better.
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