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A Thousand Acres

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3.78  ·  Rating Details ·  47,098 Ratings  ·  2,111 Reviews
"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 young
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Hardcover, 371 pages
Published October 23rd 1991 by Alfred a Knopf (first published 1991)
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LadyCalico Although based on King Lear, it is told from a different POV and becomes a very different tale by reversing the antagonists and protagonists...maybe…moreAlthough based on King Lear, it is told from a different POV and becomes a very different tale by reversing the antagonists and protagonists...maybe you would have formed a different picture if you had heard both sides of the story! How would you feel about King Lear if you knew what happened behind the closed doors of his castle? What if deceitful King Lear spread pity-me stories to turn the Kingdom against Regan and Goneril because by ruining their reputations he makes sure no one would believe them if they ever revealed his ugly secrets? What if you discovered that Shakespeare was a dupe who swallowed Lear's bull and blamed the victims?(less)
Kelly Giaume Did you actually read the book? By your questions it doesn't seem as if you did. "How does she use setting to advance the story?", ..."…moreDid you actually read the book? By your questions it doesn't seem as if you did. "How does she use setting to advance the story?", ..." Characterization?" All of those answers are glaringly obvious if you actually read the book! It seems as if your looking for others to do your homework assignment. (less)

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Glen Engel-Cox
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 ...more
Violet wells
Smiley uses King Lear as her framework for this novel. We have the ailing patriarch, a kingdom in decline and his three contesting daughters. And as you’re reading you’re often wondering to what extent Smiley is going to mirror the Shakespeare plot. The plot of King Lear would be melodramatic vaudeville in the hands of a heavy handed author so Smiley is setting herself a huge challenge here.

The novel is narrated by Ginny, the eldest of the daughters. In other words Goneril, the most treacherous
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Jonathan Ashleigh
In the beginning I felt there were a lot of characters to keep track of, but while some names are mentioned later on that I did not recall that was not actually a problem for me. I only realized while reading other reviews that this was a spin off of King Lear and that helps explain why some of the characters, while otherwise humble, cheated on their spouses and even tried to kill the people closest to them. I thought that the idea of “the death of the American farm” was the most powerful part o ...more
Margitte
Rose: "Forgiveness is a reflex for when you can't stand what you know. I resisted that reflex. That's my sole, solitary, lonely accomplishment."
This is a story about a family and their one thousand acre farm in Zebulon County, Iowa. It is a detailed account of life on an American farm. Three sisters had to live through the memories of their childhood, the death of their mother, and the relationship they all had with their father.

Betrayal, trust, loyalty, and fate were slowly building up a towe
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Will Byrnes
Jan 05, 2015 Will Byrnes rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“…Daddy thinks history starts fresh every day, every minute, that time itself begins with the feelings he’s having right now. That’s how he keeps betraying us, why he roars at us with such conviction. We have to stand up to that, and say, at least to ourselves, that what he’s done before is still with us, still right here in this room until there’s true remorse. Nothing will be right until there’s that.”
“He looks so, sort of, weakened.”
“Weakened is not enough. Destroyed isn’t enough. He’s got
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Scott Axsom
May 18, 2012 Scott Axsom rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Written in 1991, Jane Smiley’s Pulitzer-winning “A Thousand Acres” pretends to be about the death of the American farm but, if I’ve ever read a book richer in subtext, I cannot recall it. She tells the story via the lives of three daughters of a third generation farming family in Iowa in the 1970’s. Through the obsequious character of Ginny, Smiley describes the ethos of small town/agrarian American life in unrelenting detail and, by doing so, she describes the death of an American myth.

The laye
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Saxon
May 15, 2009 Saxon rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: school
This won a Pulitzer Prize and acts as yet another testament to why the Pulitzer Prize should largely be ignored. However, the fact that it did win a Pulitzer makes me feel less embarrassed about reading it...even if it was just for class.

A Thousand Acres, told from the middle of three daughters, is a story about a small farming community in rural Iowa during the mid-1970s and is loosely based on King Lear. A bunch of tragic shit happens that is mostly the fault of the men. This proves to be Smil
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Paul Bryant
Mar 28, 2016 Paul Bryant rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novels
SLATTED CORNCRIBS AND MARY JANES


It’s kind of slightly fun to see how Jane Smiley gets all the lurid plot of King Lear into her tale of the decline and fall of an Iowa farming family. For instance

Out, vile jelly!
Where is thy lustre now?


the famous scene where the Earl of Gloucester is blinded onstage (ewww, really?) gets transformed into an accident with a farm machine which squirts ammonia into a farmer’s eyes; and a war between the branches of the family becomes a court case. And the reason the
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Wanda
Jun 08, 2010 Wanda rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Ok, I got to page 267 of this book and I figured that life was too short to go ahead with this torture. What was the Pulitzer committee thinking when they awarded the prize to this DREADFUL book? I found it so excrutiatingly dull as to be an exercise in nothing more than endurance. Smiley's story of the decline of an Iowa farm family is ostensibly based on King Lear. In reality it has no remote resemblance to King Lear, who was a sympathetically tragic character – perhaps one of his greatest. ...more
Whitaker
I know a guy who grew up in a small rural village in Sweden. It was a small, tight-knit community. Everybody knew everybody. And nobody was different. If someone took up a hobby, say, macramé pretty soon all the women would be doing it. It was all very Stepford; difference was not something to be encouraged. He got out of there as soon as he could.

Imagine, though, how it would be to live like that: under the constant eyes of your community, gossip buzzing around about you, judging you and weigh
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Leslie
Oct 27, 2016 Leslie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wow!! The drama and impact of this Pulitzer Prize winning novel increases more and more the further you go. A compelling read that I highly recommend.

The family dynamics of both the Cook family and their nearest neighbors, the Clarks, start off seemingly so smooth and normal and unravel so completely.

Plenty to think about so more may come...
Angela Wynne
Jan 05, 2008 Angela Wynne rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A simple story-family lives on and works a 1,000 acre farm that has been in the family for four generations. Father, Larry, decides to retire and leave the farm to his three daughters. Dad acts funky, daughters become concerned, family unravels, peope die, people get angry, people leave, etc. Boring, right?

Wrong!! The beauty of this story IS its simplicity. However, the characters, like real people are quite complex. They move through life vastly unaware of their motivations. Through the course
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Steve
Dec 18, 2014 Steve rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
A clunky retelling of Lear. Only at the very end do you get a touch of Lear's darkness, but it's not enough to save the novel. One of the most overrated novels I've ever read. I think this book won some awards, and might have been an Oprah Book before there were Oprah Books. A classic example of why some awards and book club favorites are not to be trusted. Come to think of it, I've only read one great novel by Smiley, The Greenlanders. And that book is unlike anything else she's done.
Alex
Apr 03, 2015 Alex rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2014, rth-lifetime
I loved this Shakespeare-by-way-of-Steinbeck Lear of the Corn. I read it directly after a re-read of Lear, so some of my pleasure came from seeing how clever Smiley is with her source, but it's a tremendous book in any case.

It's insanely ambitious to try to write Lear as a novel at all; it's a crazy play and most of it doesn't make any real-world sense. Realism isn't really the point there. But Smiley has figured most of it out. She makes dad's Alzheimer's explicit, of course, and adds some back
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Cynthia
Apr 22, 2008 Cynthia rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I just didn't get this book. I think this Pulitzer Prize winning book was just over my head.

This story involves a Iowa farm family (3 daughters with their husbands and their overbearing, stubborn, old school father). Their farm is their life (with the exception of one daughter, Caroline, who became a lawyer). The father decides to relinguish control over the family farm and sign it over to his two oldest daughters, Ginny and Rose, and their husbands (Ty and Frank?) . Well he immediately regrets
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Terry
Jul 31, 2016 Terry rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Such a 5 star book!!!!!
This will be a great book to discuss.
I listened to it on Audible and the narrator was excellent.
Actually, I am exhausted now, I feel as though I lived through this book...

The discussion starts on August 1st, /All About Books group.
Joe S
Jun 27, 2008 Joe S rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Joe by: My father. Who'da thunk?
Shelves: novels
This book won a Pulitzer back in that day, and that pisses me off. Although, really, I should know better by now. I'm always burned by the Pulitzers.

Based on the rough plot of King Lear, yes, which is objectively the worst of Shakespeare's plays and that should say something. This book is an excellent example of why everyone should leave psychological novels to the Russians and Henry James. Nothing strictly happens, of course, just like in Lear (except there, at least, everyone dies in interesti
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Judy
Apr 11, 2015 Judy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone
Shelves: fiction, iowa, usa, 2015-reads
I've had mixed reviews for Jane Smiley's books...but loved this one and now understand the Pulitzer Prize and the hype about her writing.
Sara Warner
Sep 27, 2012 Sara Warner rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Jane's Endings

I guess there is nothing so frightening as families. As a child, as a young person, your family forms the air you breathe, the landscape you accept as the world. It can take a long time to discover there is something amiss in your family, because you think that is just the way things are everywhere. Smiley's A Thousand Acres embarks on the unlayering of such a discovery so gently, so beautifully, that it's hard to believe that she has brought you, safe in your armchair, face to fac
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Kate
Nov 18, 2007 Kate rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed


Jane Smiley, A Thousand Acres, (Harper Perennial, London, 2004)

This is an interesting novel, to say the least. I came to it with prejudice, I must admit, as it's a reworking of Shakespeare's King Lear, a play that I love and that I'm currently working on for my dissertation. So then, on reading the blurb, I immediately thought that Smiley's novel would involve her murdering the play. I was wrong.

What happens, in fact, is that Smiley puts her own spin on the story of Lear and his daughters, just
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Elyse
Sep 06, 2010 Elyse rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
EXCELLENT!!!!!!!!
Rljulie
Oct 11, 2014 Rljulie rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Based on "King Lear" and every bit as dreary, with the disadvantage of being...not Shakespeare.
Becky
Jun 08, 2008 Becky rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: all my friends
Recommended to Becky by: Mom
This story is much more profound that I originally expected it to be. Three daughters raised under similar circumstances,but each reacted very differently to their childhood. There is a lot of depth to the characters in this book, even some of the minor ones. Humans are so complex and so interesting.

Ginny (the oldest daughter) just adapted to whatever circumstances came her way. Most people would call this 'easy to get along with'. But it caused a lot of miscommunication and unhappiness. It made
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John
Dec 04, 2007 John rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a hard book to read. It is Smiley's adaptation of King Lear, told from the point of view of one of his daughters. Most of the characters are good sorts of folks--or at least can be decent--except the father, who is a shallow and evil man.

What makes this book hard to read is that it is like watching a loved one with an addiction that goes untreated. The demise is horrible and inevitable, and the characters lack the insight to avoid it. One of the women in the book, the narrator, does com
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Laura
Just arrived from USA through BM.

This book is a reworking of Shakespeare's King Lear.

Nevertheless, Jane Smiley knew majestically how to portray the story of a family in Iowa. The patriarch decides to share his farm to his three daughters but not everything happens as planned.

I watched A Thousand Acres (1997) the movie a long time ago but I still do remember the magnificent work performed by the actresses Jessica Lange and Michelle Pfeiffer acting as Ginny and Rose respectively.

Ms.pegasus
Apr 18, 2015 Ms.pegasus rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone interested in character driven fiction
Recommended to Ms.pegasus by: love of Jane Smiley's books
Shelves: fiction
A sense of inevitable tragedy stalks the Iowa farming family author Jane Smiley portrays in A THOUSAND ACRES. It's the fruit of three generations — both the gift and the vengeance of the reconfigured land. Drainage, agrichemicals, factory methods and mechanization are only part of the story. The land has shaped society. It's a society that equates acquisition with success, and confuses good luck with moral virtue. Smiley intersperses other hints about this society throughout the book. The phrase ...more
Leah Angstman
I am lost for words to say about this book. I mulled over how to write one paragraph about it for almost half an hour. The first half teetered between three stars and four stars for me, moving insanely slowly, loaded in exposition and back-history that was all simultaneously important and not important, and not really putting weight in any particular place. It just seemed to skip around, although even the skipping around was well-written. The writing is great, but not without its flaws, as ...more
Daniel
Oct 24, 2014 Daniel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
After loving Some Luck, it seemed only natural to me to roll right into Jane Smiley's most famous novel. A Thousand Acres is a retelling of King Lear in the heart of Iowa farming country during the Carter administration, an era that Smiley depicts as being the last gasp for many independent family farms. I don't know the play that well--specifically, I have seen the season of Slings and Arrows where they put on King Lear--and I was surprised to discover that nearly everything that happens in it ...more
Kris Marley Patrick
A thousand swirling thoughts right now. I think I'd like to revisit my reflection on A Thousand Acres if I return to Hoosier Writing Project in June.

Not sure if one of her intentions, but Smiley stabs at the myth of farm life simplicity. As a granddaughter to two sets of farming grandparents, I can acknowledge that farming is far more financially and emotionally complex than many of we suburbanites and urban dwellers can appreciate. At any decade.

The myth makes the rustic farmhouse decorating
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Leah Polcar
4.7

Despite so much hate for Pulitzer winner evidenced in the Goodreads reviews of A Thousand Acres , I think we have to grant any winner is going to exhibit skilled prose and either great character development or/and fabulous plot. Acres has the writing and character development nailed. You'd think it would also have plot in the bag, being that it is based on King Lear , but I think this is the weakness that keeps Acres from receiving the coveted full five stars.

(Plus sometimes it did get a
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Jane Smiley is a Pulitzer Prize-winning American novelist.

Born in Los Angeles, California, Smiley grew up in Webster Groves, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis, and graduated from John Burroughs School. She obtained a A.B. at Vassar College, then earned a M.F.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Iowa. While working towards her doctorate, she also spent a year studying in Iceland as a Fulbright Scholar
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“I was depressed, but that was a side issue. This was more like closing up shop, or, say, having a big garage sale, where you look at everything you've bought in your life, and you remember how much it meant to you, and now you just tag it for a quarter and watch 'em carry it off, and you don't care. That's more like how it was.” 38 likes
“I suspected that there were things he knew that I had been waiting all my life to learn.” 12 likes
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