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Barn Blind: A Novel Paperback – March 9, 1993

3.3 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

A woman's increasing dedication to the rearing and showing of horses - to the virtual exclusion of her own family's needs - is, ultimately, deeply destructive. Set in rural Illinois, this is a quietly written yet deceptively powerful family saga. (Kirkus UK)

In this unusual first novel Smiley, with flawless command of the shaky grandeurs and gritty drudgery which can absorb the equestrian fancy, matches the openended rigors of the discipline with one woman's tragically destructive obsession. Kate Karlsen, owner of 50 horses in the Illinois countryside, trainer hnd instructor, a "failed equestrienne" in the Big Time and a severe convert to Catholicism, manages her family of four children - college dropout Margaret, 17-year-old Peter, 15-year-old John, pre-teen Henry - by inflexible rules: a code of manners for stable management, horsemanship, household and school duties. "Kate felt certain. . . of the loveliness of those rules. . . the nearly sensual pleasure in following them, lashing oneself to them." And husband Axel, from whom Kate has withdrawn in a gesture of shriving asceticism, is still fascinated by this unapproachable, driven woman who loves her children but is blind to their needs and personalities. Through the days of hard, grinding labor (the entire complex is manned only by the children) what did they know of anything besides horses? And did anyone ever ask them if they liked horses? While the family prepares for the shows, the restless adolescents, long suppressed and bewildered by disorienting visions of simple freedoms, are shocked into abortive protest: John, resenting his mother's passionate championing of Peter, as her best training product and given her best mount, resorts to untypical cruelty and neglect of the horses; Margaret encourages a casual flirtation with an older horseman but dreams of ordinary dates; Henry plans to run away. And at the show on the Karlsen complex the family will ride together for the last time - handsome, straight-backed, "all six attesting to the wisdom of Kate's theories and methods." The lives, drawn taut, will snap. John is killed, leaving Axel, Margaret, and Henry, like discarded marionettes, slumped in grief. . . but weeks later Kate and Peter, enslaved forever by Kate's lifelong "tigerish" circling of unattainable perfection, are working on the training field in a "frightening happiness." A devastating probe of a woman sealed within that (to most of us) alien world of the track and paddock; special - but deep-driving. (Kirkus Reviews) --New York Times Book Review --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From the Inside Flap

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
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books (March 9, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0449908747
  • ISBN-13: 978-0449908747
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,094,104 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book literally haunted me. I found myself constantly thinking about the characters days after I finished it. It is a quiet kind of story, packed with repressed emotions, and somehow the ending felt cathartic although not immediately so. I could see chaos in this large rambling horse farm family and I could put together the events with a clarity I did not feel the moment I finished the book. It took awhile, and slowly these people took more shape and I began to understand more and feel the story's latent ending. I was intrigued by the family dynamics, the dominant mother/trainer, the passive, ever-loving, forgiving father, and each child responding in the only way their personalities would allow to the intensity of their demanding mother. The end was powerful. I reflected on the father holding his head in his hands as he realized there was no end in sight to his wife's sovereignity and determination to carry on at any cost. I crave a sequel, yet I already know it. It is the epitome of barn blind.
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Format: Paperback
I expected to love this book, but I was disappointed. Although the setting is a horse farm, the horses are basically props moved about in the process of exploring family dynamics. The primary theme is one many people can relate to: a parent trying to live vicariously through her children, without regard to their own desires. However, I was unable to fully "connect" with any of the characters emotionally; perhaps because author Smiley relates their story in a rather detached manner herself. Even so, I might have liked this book more if the ending had not been so abrupt. Just as I was starting to really care about the characters, the climactic event occurs--and the ending comes so soon afterward that the story seems unfinished. Perhaps my expectations were unrealistically high due to having read "Horse Heaven", a more recent work, first. Everything I expected from "Barn Blind" is delivered masterfully in "Horse Heaven". For all but the most avid Jane Smiley fans, I would recommend either reading "Barn Blind" first, or skipping it altogether and reading "Horse Heaven" instead.
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Format: Paperback
I found the character of Kate to be monstrous; perhaps I was supposed to. Her only nearly redeeming quality was that she protected her horses from abuse. Not actually redeeming since she heaped emotional and verbal abuse on her children while doing so. The characters of the children were the most fully realized and heartbreaking. The horse lingo was not a barrier for me as it was to some readers. The comparisons to Horse Heaven are not apt - Horse Heaven is a book *about* horses and horse racing, where the horses themselves are major characters. The is a book about a dysfunctional family that happens to own horses, and the dysfunction is expressed through through the mother's obsessions.

I sincerely hope Kate was not based on a real life instructor or trainer. If she was, the author should share that information so we can all stay far, far away.
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Format: Paperback
Kate was a fascinating character study -- one of the more tunnel-vision creations I've ever read. I enjoy horses so I do not know how much that helped me to like the book. Jane Smiley said, on a recent interview on Well Read (PBS TV show) that Barn Blind was one of her favorite books she'd written. I have not tended to enjoy most of her books -- this one I really did. It had kind of a bare-your-soul rawness about it that is exemplary of how I think we really are when the door is closed and no one but family is watching.
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Format: Paperback
Good story, excellent writing! Jane Smiley descriptions were wonderful and I enjoyed learning about the care and training of horses. Interesting and captivating novel.
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Format: Paperback
I have no great interest in horses, but my daughter does, so I found the horse aspects interesting. I have no idea if it was accurate, and the "convenient abrupt ending" another reviewer alluded to I found to make perfect sense with the flow of the rest of the novel. Throughout there was a sense that *something* was going occur and it was going to be very important, and well, finally it did. I didn't like the characters themselves a lot either, with the exception of Axel, but only when reading "Women in Love" by DH Lawrence, has that really mattered to me. I found the characters interesting and on the edge of transformation. What I really did wonder about through out was why Henry wasn't riding, but maybe he didn't know, and neither did anyone else, so why should we? My major objection to the edition I had was the cover. The farm in the book is a horse farm; the farmm on the cover was a crop farm.
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Format: Paperback
I was disappointed in this book as I am not familiar with the equestrian world. The language was geared for horse lovers. I skipped much of it or rather skimmed through the passages. The last chapter, I read. I am sure those in the world of horse shows would love it.
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Format: Paperback
This book is a HUGE disappointment. The characters were totally unbelievable. The horses were more real than the people. I kept waiting for it to get better and before I knew it...I was done. LAME ending. Don't waste your precious reading time with this one. IF you liked Jane Smiley's Thousand Acres, you will hate Barn Blind. YUK!
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