Wednesday, July 10, 2013

A Thousand Acres

1991, 1992 Fawcett Columbine edition
Jane Smiley
A Thousand Acres
Bought newish for $12.00
Slightly worn paperback

While I still prefer this to King Lear, I can see why I don't read it more often, and why Smiley's Moo (which we'll get to in 1995) has always been more enjoyable.  Even more than with Lear, there are no sympathetic characters here.  We might feel sorry for them at different points, but they all do wrong things, from taking the wrong side to adultery and even attempted murder.  The Lear figure is not simply mad (both insane and angry) but verbally and physically abusive.  He beats and molests at least two of his daughters.  

The narrator Ginny (Goneril) doesn't even remember the molestation till about halfway through the book.  While I don't entirely discount the concept of "repressed memory," I found it implausible here, particularly since Ginny was 14 at the time and seems to have no other memory gaps.  (One of my friends was repeatedly molested at age 3 and remembered it vividly.)  I also found Ginny and beloved sister Rose (Regan) mutually betraying each other forced.  If the book had set up that it was a world where you can't trust anyone, I might've been more OK with it, but after awhile it felt like Smiley was just heaping one unpleasant-to-horrific incident on top of another.

So why the C+?  Well, the soap-operatics do have a certain appeal.  (There's also cancer and infertility.)  At the same time, Smiley is good at describing things, from fields to food, capturing Carter-era farm life.  This won the Pulitzer, but I wish it were either more believable, or trashier.  With Moo as I recall, she takes a more satiric note and nothing truly terrible happens.

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