Spike's Reviews > A Thousand Acres

A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley
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May 25, 2012

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Read in May, 2012

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 never have I actually grown to dislike the protagonist. But somehow Smiley made that happen.

Let me just say that for all the whiney self-pity, Ginny lost my sympathy. She cheats on her husband. She attempts to poison her sister. The story itself grew to stretch the limits of believability. Characters do things with no apparently clear motivation, such as when Daddy gives away the farm, only to demand it back later. Her husband Ty—usually reliable and affectionate—doesn’t defend her when she is verbally assaulted. People die at convenient times—in multiple appearances of deus ex machina. Note, it was only after I finished the novel did I learn that this was essentially a retelling of King Lear. Well so what? The novel should work on its own. Characters should do things that make sense. Quite simply, they don’t.
And lastly I began to get a sense of the author intruding into the story in an obvious and annoying way. Man-bashing aplenty. All the men, except for Jenny’s politically correct lover Jess are either evil assholes or passionless, boring dolts. Then we introduce a ‘repressed memory’ of being sexually assaulted by Daddy---at age 14, which Ginny cannot remember at first. Again, hard to believe. It she were six or seven, sure, but not 14. In general there was a very feminist, leftist bias to the work. Honestly, it felt preachy to me. I’m not advocating for or against such views. I’m advocating against the author’s viewpoint intruding into the story, which belongs to the characters. Overall, this deserves 2.5 stars.
Would I read more of Smiley’s work? Yes, but cautiously.
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