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A Thousand Acres – Jane Smiley

A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley


When I was still the editor-in-chief of our college publication, I hauled all the books that I own to our office. I had a little difficulty in doing so because first, the security guards questioned me, and second, they were heavy. At that time, I had around 100 books. The reason I put my books there is to spark an interest in reading among my staffers.

It was not a huge success, but I got three of them to read. One read The Road by Cormac McCarthy, which was not finished, another The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton, which I doubt was finished, and this novel, which didn’t suit the reader’s taste, and which was not also finished.

I was almost furious, but hey, I can’t hold it against them. If they like reading those commercialized and popular books, that’s okay with me. I just wanted them to expand their reading with such books. I have little idea why the last one didn’t like this novel. Let’s see.

The Rhapsody

It opened with a rather lengthy description of how flat Iowa was, how there were no slopes anywhere, how the roads just went on and on. I am quite sure it was Iowa, with the rolling fields of maybe wheat. I remember myself also having trouble trying to read the opening paragraph. One or two sentences would have sufficed for the novice reader, but a whole page?

Now that I look back, I think the author was trying to show us how flat the lives of the protagonists led. Or that there’s something lurking underneath the surface of this flat back drop. Or both.

The story was told in the point of view of Ginny, the middle sister. The oldest was Rose, the youngest Carol. Carol no longer lived with them; I think she was practicing law in the city. The remaining two were left with their husbands and father.

Ginny and Rose used to love the same man. I think his name was Jesse. Of course, I am unreliable at this. Anyway, the past and the present intertwined with the turn of events. Clues from the past were revealed one by one to show the reader why the characters came to act and think that way.

Then there’s this part were Ginny got so mad at Rose. I think it had something to do with stealing boyfriends. Ginny and Jesse were the original lovers, but Rose somehow interfered. I don’t think either of the girls married Jesse. Or maybe Rose divorced that guy. Anyway, Ginny tried to kill her boyfriend-stealing sister by mixing a poisonous herb in a bottle of sauerkraut. I remember this distinctly because I didn’t see it coming. All the clues in the earlier chapters were there, but they just seemed like mundane actions. And this is, I think, why that staffer got bored reading this novel.

But Rose didn’t eat that despite her love for that food. Is it a German food made of pickled cabbage? So she put that bottle in the storage room, forgot it, then died instead of breast cancer.

So is that it? The girls also fought over the inheritance of the land that their father left after he died. Rose and Ginny ganged up on Carol, who was absent for the most part of the novel. And in her arrival, explosive secrets were revealed, particularly the rapes of their father to her daughters. Carol. Rose. And Ginny.

And they seemed like they all lived peacefully under the rule of their grumpy, old father. That’s all that I can remember. And the last line: This is the gleaming obsidian shard I safeguard above all others. I don’t know why that line was etched in my mind. The revelation must be that intense for me to still know these last words. I even double checked by googling.

4 star - really liked itFinal Notes

The father’s rape and his daughters’ response. Is it condoning? Is it the loss of self-respect? Is it indifference? It’s really complicated. How will you expect a woman raped by her own father to act? Should you expect her to cry for mercy, to leave and never return, to act like nothing happened, or to forgive and protect her father?

The blurb said that it is an explosive, and indeed, it was. I think the rape incident was only revealed at the last few pages, or even the last one. After the last punctuation, you understand the characters’ hostility against each other, and then get confused on why they chose to stay together. Except for Carol.

So the three reacted differently to their own respective rapes. Now that I remember their father, I now conclude that he is the most disgusting character that I ever read. I never liked him to begin with, and you could not imagine the rage I had when I discovered what he did to his own daughters.

There are some incestuous relationships which do not seem so bad, like One Hundred Years of Solitude and War and Peace. But they are only between cousins, not sons and daughters.

I think I have to stop now. I feel strongly against this. I have a feeling that I will just rant on and on in circles.


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