Sara Warner's Reviews > A Thousand Acres

A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley
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it was amazing

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 face with such evil. But believe you do. And the danger is so slippery, so insidious, and you don't realize until suddenly you are no longer an adult with some level of say-so, but once again a child, scared out of her wits, who has seen a monster, who is trying to tell someone, but no one believes there's any danger. And the monster is here.

Yes, this is a beautiful and frightening novel, of land and blood and the heritage of a rural family in a landscape of violent secrets. It is a story of the concessions we make, for love and survival and out of ignorance of any choice. It is a sad story, a story of America's heartland. But then you're half way through, and it's not over, and Smiley, in her inimitable way, having led us down this dark and dangerous path, nevertheless then manages to bring a new day, a new sense of triumph in the face of utter disaster. I'm kind of waiting to see how she does watching a magician to see how the trick is done. And then, there it is, the turn toward something altogether else that opens a new avenue, a new vista. A comic wickedness that I would have bet the farm she couldn't get away with.

But she does. I used to think, when reading some of Smiley's early novels, that she was a terrific writer who just did not know how to write an ending to her sprawling yarns. (Thinking here of The All -True Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton and Good Faith.) And I admit, there was a moment in this novel when I thought, ok, downhill from here. But I'm changing my mind. I'm thinking of a bigger canvas here...big enough to make sense of her ability to pull back to some level of comic relief in the midst of heart-breaking catastrophe. To tell a story of cosmic benevolence thwarting one's lesser instincts in the midst of so much angst...well, how bold, how weird, how Smiley. How glad I am for American literature that she is so ours.
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Reading Progress

September 24, 2012 – Started Reading
September 24, 2012 – Shelved
September 26, 2012 – Finished Reading

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Scott Axsom Beautifully said.

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