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A THOUSAND ACRES by Jane Smiley Kirkus Star


by Jane Smiley

Pub Date: Nov. 4th, 1991
ISBN: 0-394-57773-6
Publisher: Knopf

Lear in Iowa. In a seaming, 20th-century version of Shakespeare's tragedy, Smiley--clawing open the "ingratitude" of a monarch's elder daughters to reveal a rage that could out-tempest Lear's--once again examines the buried secret hurts within families and the deadly results when damaged egos are unleashed: "The one thing...maybe no family could tolerate was things coming out into the open." Living under the iron order of that tyrannical, successful farmer Larry Cook, owner of 640 Iowa acres, are: daughter Rose, 34- year-old recovering cancer patient, mother of two and wife of ex-musician Pete, the perennial outsider, object of Larry's contempt; and childless Ginny, married to Tyler, an easygoing man who can betray with silence. Youngest daughter Caroline, whom motherless Rose and Ginny had raised and unfettered from Daddy, is a lawyer in Des Moines. It's at a well-liquored neighborhood social that Daddy announces he's giving up his farm to his three daughters. "I don't know," says cool lawyer Caroline, and Daddy slams off in a fury. As Rose and Ginny and their pleased husbands prepare for a release from Daddy's overlordship, something else is released when Rose--scenting out weakness in the terrible old man--hungers for revenge at last. Nothing but Daddy's repentance will do for deeds in the past so foul that Ginny has blotted out the memory and Rose has kept her silence. Circling around Rose's sizzling path toward impossible satisfaction, with Ginny in tow, are their husbands--one blunted, one death-bound--and a self-exiled native son who will drive a wedge between the two sisters, mingling a hate and lust/love that brings one to murder. As for Daddy's angel Caroline--come back to flight for Daddy (senile? maybe), never battered by home maelstroms--he's been simply a father "no more, no less." With the Bard's peak moments--the storm, a blinding, etc.--a potent tragedy immaculate in characters, stately pace, and lowering ambiance.