Jane Smiley

, /10

Jane Smiley (USA, 1950)

"Barn Blind" (1980)

synopsis forthcoming

"The Age of Grief" (1987)

synopsis forthcoming

"Good Will" (1989)

synopsis forthcoming

"Greenlanders" (1988)

synopsis forthcoming

"A Thousand Acres" (1991) + is a southern-gothic novel played through the eyes of an innocent woman who slowly comes to see the evil in the world. The novel is well written and orchestrated, but the plot is at times implausible and is full of popular stereotypes (child abuse being one of America's most abused themes of the time) and relies on a somewhat conventional structure (mixing past and present is no longer an attraction, but more an annoying distraction). The limit of Smiley's style, like the limits of many American writers of her generation, is that half her novel looks and feels more like a set of interlocking short stories than a novel. The second half, once the plot has past the point of no return, feels more like the epic novel that it aims to be. On the positive side, she does offer an evocating description of life at a farm.

Ginny, the narrator, is the daughter of a farmer. She is very attached to the younger sister she grew up with, Rose. After their mother's death, they basically raised their sister Caroline, who went on to college and is now a lawyer in the city. Rose married hot-tempered Pete and has two children. Ginny is also married, with a good, simple, hard-working man, Ty, but has had one miscarriage after the other. Their dad and their neighbor Harold belong to the generation of epic farming. Pete and Ty trust their dad blindly and work hard alongside him.
When Harold buys a tractor, something changes (it's the end of the epic era). Ginny's dad comes up with the idea of creating a corporation and dividing the farm among his three daughters. Caroline bails out and the patriarch resents it to the point of estrangering her.
Flashbacks describe how Ginny's dad got his thousand acres, thanks to a neighbor who refused to adopt machines.
The banker Marv Carson approves the loan that starts the new hog operation. It is an ambitious plan, but the three men (Ty, Pete and dad) are ready to put their heart into it.
Harold has two sons. Loren has been with him all the time, while Jesse went to Canada to avoid the draft. Jesse returns all of the sudden and becomes Ginny's favorite confident. She loves her husband, but knows that she is attracted to Jess to the point that she will not be able to resist him.
Despite the fact that it was clearly their father's idea, the neighbors and even Caroline suspect that Ginny and Rose "stole" the farm from their father, as he is obviously not happy and is behaving erratically. Caroline doesn't even inform them that she's getting married with her fiance` Frank. Ginny and Rose had always been proud of how they raised Caroline to be a successful woman, so it hurts that she now seems to hate them.
When her father drinks and has an accident, Ginny loses her patience and, for the first time in her life, gives him orders. Rose makes no mystery that she now hates him. The family is collapsing, and Ginny is the only one trying to hold it together.
Harold is also strange. He is also mad at Loren, who has been devoted to the farm, and seems to prefer Jesse, who hasn't done anything to help. Jesse dreams of an environmentally-friendly farm, and his dreams are contagious for Ginny. They finally become lovers. Ginny tells him of her miscarriages, and he tells her that people have known for years of the danger of fertilizers that drain into wells. There is nothing wrong with her: it's the water that poisoned her babies.
The crisis explodes during a storm. Dad calls Ginny a "whore", the sisters rebel, and he walks away in the storm. Rose tells Ginny that her father abused them sexually. Ginny has no memory of it.
Dad moves to Harold's, and Harold offers to act as the peacemakers but instead sets them up: at a church picnic, he accuses Ginny and Rose of having stolen their dad's farm and of having kicked the poor old man out of his farm in the middle of a storm. He also curses Jesse and his plans for organic farming.
Jesse moves into the house of Ginny's dad. Rose is ever more bitter about their dad, Harold, and farming. ROse has seen through the cruelty of the old men who created those farms, and shows no mercy for them, while Ginny is always hopeful and forgiving.
Dad sues them to get his farm back, and Caroline is also a party to the lawsuit. Ginny calls Caroline, but she is cold and truly believes (like everyone else) that they kicked out dad in the storm.
The lawyers and the banker order a halt to the construction of the hog operation. Ty and Pete have been killing themselves to finish in time, but in vain. Pete gets drunk and drowns. Rose reveals to Ginny that she has become Jesse's lover, and that her husband knew, and she knows that Jesse slept with her too. But Rose feels no remorse. Ginny is jealous of her sister: Pete's death has given her freedom. Ginny quietly plans to kill Rose with poisoned sausages. Ty takes care of the farm alone, and proves to be an excellent farmer.
Rose and Ginny win at the trial (the judge even reproaches Caroline for filing the lawsuit at all when it's obvious that there was no wrongdoing). At the trial, it becomes apparent that dad has lost his mind.
Instead of celebrating, Ginny takes some money and runs away, leaving the farm to Ty and Rose, who split it in two. Rose farms organically to please Jesse, but Jesse leaves her nonetheless. Dad dies of a heart attack.
Ginny lives in a town, works as a waitress, just waiting to hear that Rose has eaten the sausages and died. A terrible winter forces Ty to sell his farm and move to another state. On the way, he stops by to see Ginny. The farm is falling apart despite the fact that Rose has now taken up her dad's role, working hard against all odds. But Ginny is no longer interested in the history of the farm: she has realized that its epic history hides a story of child abuses, poisonous water and dirty tricks. There was nothing epic and noble about it.
Rose is dying of cancer (probably another effect of using fertilizers) and calls Ginny to take care of her two girls. Rose's life looks like a complete failure. Ginny tells her that she tried to poison her with the sausages (but Jesse turned her into a vegetarian just in time). Rose leaves the farm to Ginny and Caroline because she doesn't want her daughters to continue the dynasty. The bankers forces them to sell anyway to pay the debts. Caroline is still accusing them of destroying everything.

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