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A Thousand Acres

3.80  ·  Rating details ·  64,193 ratings  ·  2,974 reviews
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 ...more
Paperback, 371 pages
Published December 2nd 2003 by Anchor (first published 1991)
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Alex Gallo That is exactly what it is! However, it's filtered down so it's not EXACTLY King Lear-- I read the book and the play of King Lear and the daughters in…moreThat is exactly what it is! However, it's filtered down so it's not EXACTLY King Lear-- I read the book and the play of King Lear and the daughters in each are very different, but it's the same basic storyline just set in a modern day farm in Iowa whereas King Lear is set in the 15th Century in England. Excellent book! Excellent, excellent book! (less)
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Average rating 3.80  · 
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Will Byrnes
“…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 g
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
Sep 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: xx2017-completed
For three generations, the Cook family have worked hard to create a thriving agriculture operation, draining swamplands, turning the weeds and grass into rich fertile soil. As time went on, their holdings eventually reached what felt like a magic number to the family – a thousand acres.

Larry Cook decides he wants to ensure his legacy continues to flourish and presents a plan to split it between his three daughters and their husbands. Ginny, the eldest and Rose, two years younger agree to comply
King Lear + 1970's Iowa farm dynasty = riveting storytelling

Having never read Jane Smiley before, I'm glad I started with this dazzling 1992 Pulitzer Prize winner.

Set in 1970's Iowa farm country, we follow the Cook family: Larry, the cruel, no-nonsense patriarch, and his daughters Ginny (the narrator), Rose and Caroline. At the onset of the story, Larry decides to retire and pass down the farm to his daughters and their husbands. Caroline, the youngest, the only daughter who managed to get off
Jan 16, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
“People keep secrets when other people don’t want to hear the truth.”

“A Thousand Acres” is one of those novels that kind of creeps up on you. You do not realize it is pulling you in, but it does so, bit by bit. Every time I picked up the book, I read for long periods. The novel is a modern version (slight retelling) of Shakespeare’s “King Lear.” The text begins in 1979 on an Iowa farm, and is told from the perspective of the eldest of three daughters, Ginny Cook. Ginny is the surrogate for Shake
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
Jonathan Ashleigh
Nov 05, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: farm-shelf, recent
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
Dec 25, 2016 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Perry by: Robin
Hawkeyes, Hayseeds and Hotheads
Flammable Flamily Secrets

Winner of the 1992 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the 1991 National Book Critics Circle fiction award, Jane Smiley's novel represents a robust, red-faced reworking of Shakespeare's King Lear, a family tragedy set against the bucolic Iowa farmland.

Lear here is Larry Cook, an elderly farmer who owns 1,000 acres he decides to gift to his three daughters via a business entity. The oldest daughter Ginny is thrilled, the youngest daughter Caroli
Michael Finocchiaro
A Thousand Acres was a beautifully written dark novel about life in Zebulon County, Iowa on a large farm that won the 1992 Pulitzer Price (and deservedly so). It was competing with two books that I have read and enjoyed, Mao II and Lila: An Inquiry Into Morals, but it was superior to both of these. I have not read Jernigan however.

We are introduced via first person interior dialog to what looks like a normal and prosperous farming family, with some parallels to King Lear, Larry "Daddy" Cook, the
Paul Bryant
Feb 14, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: novels

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 th
A nuanced and multilayered family drama set in 1970s Zebulon County, Iowa. Jane Smiley’s distinct voice births the characters of Larry Clark, and his three daughters, Ginny, Rose, and Caroline. Although it shares some characteristics with Shakespeare’s King Lear, it has its own shape and form and carries its own profundity. Smiley is specific about the history of Larry Cook’s thousand acres, its genesis through ‘sweat equity,’ the draining of its marshy waters to reveal the fertile and generativ ...more
Paul Falk
Oct 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, farm-life
The family dynamics of this knock-about tale remind me of a ride that I haven't been on since I was a kid: Bumper cars. Chances are, you've been in one too. This character-driven narrative hammered out many complexities shared among family members. In this case, the Cooks. The author presented a dynamic, well-written storyline with twists and turns that kept me amused, bewildered and saddened. The main characters and there were several, were well-developed. So much so that I felt a connection wi ...more
Jun 03, 2010 rated it did not like it
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
Dec 13, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2016
Well that was depressing. I don't even know what to say about it, other than the fact that despite my serious issues with the lack of morality and accountability from both older sisters, and the obnoxious baby sister who deliberately stuck her head in the sand, the book moved me deeply.

Perhaps it's because I related to the darkest parts of it all too well. The melancholy mixed with the loneliness that the choice to stick up for oneself and break free will inevitably bring, felt like a heavy, dus
Scott Axsom
Dec 03, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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 layers
May 06, 2009 rated it it was ok
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
Feb 28, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: pulitzer, 2021
This is a retelling of King Lear set on a Iowan farm. I have no attachment to the play whatsoever, and even if this novel borrows major themes from it, the book stands on its own as a complex family saga. I liked its feminist lens, and I loved the dynamics of this tortured family. The novel drove home the idea that the same events could be experienced by different family members in starkly different ways remarkably well. ...more
Joy D
A dysfunctional Iowa farming family falls apart when the patriarch decides to leave his thousand-acre property to two of his three daughters. His mental state deteriorates. Family infighting ensues. A neighbor’s son, who had gone to Canada to avoid the Vietnam draft, returns to the area and develops relationships with two women. It is set in 1979, a time when family farming was becoming increasingly difficult.

Protagonist Ginny, eldest of three sisters, is the narrator. She is married with no ch
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
Jun 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book profoundly influenced both my brother and me, who grew up in semi-rural Wisconsin in the 1960's and '70's. Our family was so concentrated on keeping its own secrets it never occurred to us other families around us could have their own, worse ones. ...more
Apr 27, 2010 rated it it was ok
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. ...more
Angela Wynne
Nov 19, 2007 rated it really liked it
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
Aug 20, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: rth-lifetime, 2014
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
Aug 06, 2016 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...
Elyse  Walters
Sep 01, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Oct 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is the story of a farming family in the second half of the 20th century, a domineering, abusive patriarch and his three adult daughters. When the father unexpectedly decides to sign over the farm to his daughters and son-in-laws, he kicks over the first domino in a chain of events which will shatter the daughters’ coping mechanisms and topple the precarious family structure. This is brilliantly written, each character so finely painted, the interactions so nuanced, individual motivations re ...more
Aug 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Apr 22, 2008 rated it did not like it
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
Judith E
May 26, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
There’s more to the Cook farming family than a slice of after dinner pie and a cup of coffee. Microscopically, Jane Smiley unravels the family’s complex dynamics starting with their outside appearances then progressing to the inner rationalizations and defense mechanisms of this complex family and farming community.

The paced revelations keep stacking up amidst the Iowa farming landscape and the farming culture. There is an undercurrent that begins oozing questionable behaviors from more than on
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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.” 51 likes
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