A Thousand Acres
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A Thousand Acres

3.74 of 5 stars 3.74  ·  rating details  ·  34,711 ratings  ·  1,482 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...more
Hardcover, 371 pages
Published October 23rd 1991 by Alfred a Knopf
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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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
Scott Axsom
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...more
Saxon
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...more
Angela Wynne
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...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...more
Cynthia
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...more
Joe S
Jun 27, 2008 Joe S rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  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...more
Steve
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 of 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
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...more
Wanda
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. An...more
Kate


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...more
Becky
Jun 08, 2008 Becky rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  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...more
Sara Warner
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...more
Teresa Lukey
4.5 STARS
The first half of this book is so casual, like laying down in the tall grass, staring into the sky and just listening to the sounds around you. Then, quite unexpectedly, things start to fall apart.

In this story the father, who owns a 1000 acre Iowa farm, decides he must divide the farm between his 3 daughters before he passes away. The daughters initially try to discourage this idea, but the father persists and they go along with it. After he relinquishes the property to the girls, ever...more
Lisa Findley
I read A Thousand Acres as part of a senior seminar. We read King Lear first and then this modern take on it, and that was a great way to do it. You get the historical and literary context of the novel and also an almost brutal comparison of who's good, who's bad, who's complicated, and what does it mean for the themes of power, loss, and loyalty.

I read a quote from Jane Smiley in which she said someone had come up to her and said that they loved this book. She said she appreciated the complimen...more
John
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...more
Megan
This book kept me so interested all of the way through. It is one of those very well written books by a superb author. But unlike many such books, I felt no difficulty at any point. I was just so caught up in the story, despite the fact that I knew going in that it was a modern version of King Lear and therefore had a head's up on the story line. But Smiley incorporated the aspects of King Lear so smoothly into the plot that it was completely believable and, what's more, understandable. I love i...more
Miguel
Jane Smiley escolheu como cenário do romance A Herdade, uma aldeia provinciana de Iowa, E.U.A., com poucos habitantes, mas com muitos hectares de terra de cultivo. Os três fazendeiros mais influentes de Zebulon County são descendentes das famílias Cook, Clark e os Carson. Entre os patriarcas destas famílias sempre existiu uma cordialidade mascarada de inveja e ressentim...

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Eloy
Masterly chronicle of how much tragedy, despair, bad faith, and wickedness you might encounter in just one family at the most unassuming of places (a farm in the jovial, God-fearing, patriotic expanse of the Midwestern US), in the middle of nowhere. Fiction here is much more potent and truer than reality.
Brian
Wow.

I was thinking of just allowing the above "Wow" to serve as my whole review, but (1) come on...it's ME and (2) completing this book forced me to realize something about myself as a reader.

I know nothing about that art form I purport to (and should, based on my education) know vast amounts. I know nothing about the modern American novel, about fiction.

_A Thousand Acres_ is soooo good. So good. But I couldn't really tell you why, from a critical perspective. We talk about character development...more
Connie
3.5 stars

Jane Smiley has written a novel set on a farm in Iowa that is loosely based on Shakespeare's King Lear. An older farmer decides to divide his farm among his three daughters, but the youngest daughter is hesitant about his plan. In a rage, the proud farmer gives the farm to only the two oldest daughters. This sets off a series of events where family secrets are revealed.

The book starts out slowly, but layers are peeled away to reveal the true family dynamics. Some of the daughters were m...more
Peter
Aug 15, 2007 Peter rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fans of Shakespeare; feminists readers
Jane Smiley's take on William Shakespeare's King Lear is a powerful story of anger, redemption and guilt. Smiley's plot follows Shakespeare's closely: Larry Cook is an Iowa patriarch who decides to divide his farm among his three daughters: Ginny, Rose and Caroline. Problems arise immediately when Caroline, the youngest, voices doubt and is instantly cast out of the family. The remaining two daughters begin to gradually wrestle any control away from their father, who in turns responds to his eve...more
Suzanne
This is a modern retelling of King Lear and is a tragedy. The location is the midwest and the father is planning on turning over his property (farm) to his 3 daughters. Everything has its price. And these daughters have paid it. This is a well-written novel which deserved to win the Pulitzer Prize. Nonetheless I found it depressing and haunting.
Susan Emmet
Smiley's 1991 novel moves inexorably between layers of soil, wind, rain and three generations of farming families. It's a powerful book, controlled largely by the voice of Ginny, the oldest daughter.
Tied tightly to "King Lear," Smiley brings the reader into the lives and thoughts of the Cook family and those around them. The rendering of farm life - the prized thousand acres - and the ongoing attempts to make lives that work hard for what folks have - is captured on many levels.
The characters a...more
Jeff
A successful farm family in Iowa. Three daughters of an overbearing patriarch. One daughter banished for not showing the demanded obsequiousness. A neighbor with two sons, one loyal and one prodigal. A dramatic repudiation by the patriarch of the two unappreciative daughters in a howling storm.

If you've figured out this is a retelling of 'King Lear', you know that there will be tragic elements. But Smiley is using the Lear framework to tell the story from the daughters point of view and the logi...more
Trisha
Jane Smiley - not really Smiley.

"I was always aware, I think, of the water in the soil, the way it travels from particle to particle, molecules adhering, clustering, evaporating, heating, cooling, freezing, rising upward to the surface and fogging the cool air or sinking downward, dissolving this nutrient and that, quick in everything it does, endlessly working and flowing, a river sometimes, a lake sometimes. When I was very young, I imagined it ready at any time to rise and cover the earth aga...more
Shane
An interesting interpretation of the King Lear story, told against the backdrop of mid-western farm life in the late ‘70’s, and narrated by the modern-day stand-in for Lear’s eldest daughter, Goneril.

All the Shakespearean characters are here: Lear ( Larry), his daughters Goneril (Ginny), Regan (Rose), Cordelia (Carolyn), their husbands, and the secondary plot’s characters Gloucester (Harry) and his sons.

The modern-day Lear’s kingdom is the Cook farm of a thousand acres. The classic story’s main...more
David Clark
Jane Smiley’s novel A Thousand Acres is not recommended for readers needing happy or uplifting stories. However, for those readers who revel in graceful prose and finely observed relationships, this novel is for you.

Smiley tells a story that on the surface describes the implosion of a solid prosperous Iowa farm family. The Cook family, like many successful midwestern multi-generational farm families, failed to adequately account for the dangers implicit when passing control from older to young...more
David
Among the Lovers and Haters this novel has generated, I'm definitely siding with the Lovers. (A dear friend has always referred to this book as "A Thousand Pages", so I was not expecting to like it so much myself.)

"A Thousand Acres" has been polarizing readers (and their opinions of it) since it was first published. Garnering the Pulitzer Prize only led to increased debate. I see the variety of opinions expressed in reviews and wonder if perhaps the real underlying divide is related to just how...more
Spike
CONTAINS SPOILERS.
Until about a third of the way through, I was really loving this book, both the story and the writing itself. No doubt Jane Smiley can write. Her insights into the nuances of people and their relationships to one another are mostly brilliant. That's the good.
Then, it kind of fell apart for me, in many different aspects--and sadly the ones that in a novel like this should have mattered the most. It's rare that I grow to like all the characters less as the story goes one, and ne...more
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500 Great Books B...: A Thousand Acres - Jane Smiley 1 2 Jul 15, 2014 05:10PM  
Discussion about ending of book-spoilers 3 17 Jul 14, 2014 07:24AM  
can children read it? 7 73 Mar 12, 2013 01:53PM  
worth it? 4 35 Oct 22, 2012 11:11AM  
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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...more
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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.” 26 likes
“I suspected that there were things he knew that I had been waiting all my life to learn.” 7 likes
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