Fawcett Columbine. 1991. 371 pgs.
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, 1992.
I don’t think I have the skill or insight to add another word that hasn’t been written about this masterpiece. Not that this stops me from blogging about it! I guess I have to start out by saying: this is a book I appreciated much more than I enjoyed. Smiley re-creates the story of King Lear and his daughters in the tale of a modern farm family as they reach a decision about the future ownership of the one thousand acres in their keeping. As you dig further into the story, and start to sort out the disturbing currents swirling around the various family members — especially the domineering father and his three daughters –we learn that the ownership of the land is not all that it seems. It was achieved through great exploitation — of daughter by father, and of the land itself. We learn that domination and exploitation eventually reap a bitter harvest — through industrial poisoning as well as poisoned bodies, hearts and minds. This is a great book, but certainly not a easy one. Smiley’s prose is so masterful that she carries you along skillfully, carefully peeling your hands off your eyes to show you truths that are pretty hard to take. In the end, I think what I took away from A Thousand Acres was the realization that some actions have irrevocable consequences and some crimes — whether to the earth or to people — can never be forgiven.