A Thousand Acres

A Thousand Acres - Jane Smiley

This only highlights how long its been since I've been 'actively' reviewing books, but not only did I read this back in May, this is the first review I've written since the "let's divorce author discussion from book reviews" debacle.

I've read [author reference deleted] in the past, and in those reviews I felt bound to talk about how the big draw for me was how she had such a changeable style, with writing notable for its human insight and diversity, I find her fascinating. How can I no longer discuss her at all? Granted, in my two reviews thus far I've never unpacked her, but now I can never have the chance to do that? Major bummer Goodreads. Major bummer. I needs my reads to have context.

'A Thousand Acres' is a retelling of 'King Lear', a play that incidentally I have never read, moving the setting to a Midwestern farm in the 1970s - a crucial time in agriculture, when many of the smaller family enterprises went under in favor of larger conglomerates. Farms had to modernize, profit, or they were finished. [author reference deleted] provides a great character study with Ginny, a woman playing the dutiful daughter. Ginny has self-pity to spare and interior dialogue dissecting the meaning of her life after her father's decision to give his farm over to his three daughters and their husbands. Ginny and her two sisters', Rose and Caroline, different reactions to this gift causes strife, bitter family divisions, some amount of happiness and surprising reversals.

I've waited far too long to write this so a lot of the subtleties of the story escape me now, but it was an engrossing read: melancholy, but approachable. Obviously there was some departure from Shakespeare in a the narrative, but I liked the details of farm life that [author reference deleted] worked into the story, the meditations on growing older and the uses of tradition. At one point Ginny is in an antique shop and laments at how a piece of needlepoint that must have taken hours to create is a scrap sold for a couple dollars. 'A Thousand Acres' is a tragedy, and there are some outlandish aspects, but its the details that ground it and provide verisimilitude.