I recently finished reading A Thousand Acres, by Jane Smiley. It had been on my Goodreads list for a while, and I’m glad I finally read it – even if it was ten years late (the novel won the Pulitzer Prize in 1992). While it’s often called a contemporary retelling of Shakespeare’s King Lear, I didn’t relate one to the other while reading Smiley’s work; for one reason it’s been 20 years since I’ve read King Lear, and for another reason, I don’t like to compare art forms if I can help it.
The only knowledge I had of the book was that it seemed to be referenced in many articles and books that touted it as a great novel in terms of theme and character development. While I’ve always been an avid reader, since I’ve started working on my novel, Oldsters, I find myself reading with a more critical eye – and using it as a learning experience. And A Thousand Acres didn’t disappoint.
Smiley’s theme is family, and everything that goes with that: love, conflict, dysfunction, secrets, compromise and regrets. She takes the reader on a journey that seems to move slowly, but she masterfully builds the tension and you realize the slower beginning was intentional. Like the center of a Tootsie Pop – so worth the wait!
The relationships, whether it was the jealousy between the sisters, or the resentment between the spouses, seemed real. And unfortunately, the horror between the father and daughters also reads true.
Smiley built a world that you can’t easily forget…and so I’m glad to add another author to my list of ‘to reads’. If you haven’t read A Thousand Acres it’s not too late, and if you have and want to comment on your thoughts here, please do!