Rated Reads

A Thousand Acres

by Jane Smiley

Rated: High

In Iowa there is a family farm owned by a man named Larry Cook, who has three grown daughters. While life isn’t perfect, it is routine and familiar — until the day that Larry decides to give his farm to his children as an inheritance. Our narrator, the eldest daughter Ginny, tells us what follows, a downward spiral of failed expectations, misunderstandings, jealousy and flat-out insanity.

The farm itself as a character is palpable. As a vital part of everyone’s life — especially for Ginny, her sister Rose and their husbands — the farm is a blessing and a millstone and is both the impetus and the excuse for so many decisions. But it is Larry especially whose choices and influence served to dig the well of hurt that not one of them were able to avoid drinking from.

Ginny is a powerful narrator in the sense that her emotions are so raw, her revelations (both to us and to herself) so succinct and powerful — I ached for her loss while I felt embarrassed for her weakness, perhaps because I saw in myself the same tendency to overlook things just to keep the peace.

As a painful family drama, this book is beautifully written: a harsh picture of a family falling to pieces in grand King Lear style. I wish the language hadn’t been quite so graphic because I would’ve felt more comfortable, then, recommending this story to friends who would appreciate its painful depth and vague yet present redemption. It’s hard for me to pinpoint WHY I liked it — it’s depressing and most of the characters are just not nice at all. I think it was the graceful and poignant style, the threads of emerging environmentalism, and, for some reason (I did love King Lear also), I think stories about fathers and their daughters are just interesting. Whatever the reason, I did like the meat of this book, as hard as it was sometimes to read.

Rated: High for language, language, language. 15+ uses of strong language, 20+ uses of moderate language and all kinds of mild language. There are also mildly graphic discussions about parental sexual abuse and two moderately graphic sexual scenes.

— Reviewed by Corinne Edwards

Corinne Edwards is always happiest when a book is in her hand. If her current read needs to be closed for a short time, either in her backpack while she leads her three rambunctious children on adventures, or on her nightstand while she sleeps, that's okay too. Her book thoughts and reviews land at her bookish blog, The Book Nest.

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  • A Thousand Acres
  • by Jane Smiley
  • Rated: High
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Reviewer: