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This powerful twentieth-century reimagining of Shakespeare’s King Lear centers on a wealthy Iowa farmer who decides to divide his farm between his three daughters. When the youngest objects, she is cut out of his will. This sets off a chain of events that brings dark truths to light and explodes long-suppressed emotions. Ambitiously conceived and stunningly written, A Thousand Acres takes on themes of truth, justice, love, and pride—and reveals the beautiful yet treacherous topography of humanity.

Review

“Brilliant. . . . Absorbing. . . . A thrilling work of art.” — Chicago Sun-Times

“A family portrait that is also a near-epic investigation into the broad landscape, the thousand dark acres of the human heart. . . . The book has all the stark brutality of a Shakespearean tragedy.” — The Washington Post Book World

“Powerful and poignant.” — The New York Times Book Review

“Superb. . . . There seems to be nothing Smiley can’t write about fabulously well.” — San Francisco Chronicle

“It has been a long time since a novel so surprised me with its power to haunt. . . . A Thousand Acres [has] the prismatic quality of the greatest art.” — Chicago Tribune

“Absorbing. . . . Exhilarating. . . . An engrossing piece of fiction.” — Time

“A full, commanding novel. . . . A story bound and tethered to a lonely road in the Midwest, but drawn from a universal source. . . . Profoundly American.” — The Boston Globe

From the Back Cover

A successful Iowa farmer decides to divide his farm between his three daughters. When the youngest objects, she is cut out of his will. This sets off a chain of events that brings dark truths to light and explodes long-suppressed emotions. An ambitious reimagining of Shakespeare''s King Lear cast upon a typical American community in the late twentieth century, A Thousand Acres takes on themes of truth, justice, love, and pride, and reveals the beautiful yet treacherous topography of humanity.

About the Author

Jane Smiley is the author of numerous novels, including  A Thousand Acres, which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize, and most recently,  Golden Age, the concluding volume of The Last Hundred Years trilogy. She is also the author of five works of nonfiction and a series of books for young adults. A member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, she has also received the PEN Center USA Lifetime Achievement Award for Literature. She lives in Northern California.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

At sixty miles per hour, you could pass our farm in a minute, on County Road 686, which ran due north into the T intersection at Cabot Street Road. Cabot Street Road was really just another country blacktop, except that five miles west it ran into and out of the town of Cabot. On the western edge of Cabot, it became Zebulon County Scenic Highway, and ran for three miles along the curve of the Zebulon River, before the river turned south and the Scenic continued west into Pike. The T intersection of CR 686 perched on a little rise, a rise nearly as imperceptible as the bump in the center of an inexpensive plate.

From that bump, the earth was unquestionably flat, the sky unquestionably domed, and it seemed to me when I was a child in school, learning about Columbus, that in spite of what my teacher said, ancient cultures might have been onto something. No globe or map fully convinced me that Zebulon County was not the center of the universe. Certainly, Zebulon County, where the earth was flat, was one spot where a sphere (a seed, a rubber ball, a ballbearing) must come to perfect rest and once at rest must send a taproot downward into the ten-foot-thick topsoil.

Because the intersection was on this tiny rise, you could see our buildings, a mile distant, at the southern edge of the farm. A mile to the east, you could see three silos that marked the northeastern corner, and if you raked your gaze from the silos to the house and barn, then back again, you would take in the immensity of the piece of land my father owned, six hundred forty acres, a whole section, paid for, no encumbrances, as flat and fertile, black, friable, and exposed as any piece of land on the face of the earth.

If you looked west from the intersection, you saw no sign of anything remotely scenic in the distance. That was because the Zebulon River had cut down through topsoil and limestone, and made its pretty course a valley below the level of the surrounding farmlands. Nor, except at night, did you see any sign of Cabot. You saw only this, two sets of farm buildings surrounded by fields. In the nearer set lived the Ericsons, who had daughters the ages of my sister Rose and myself, and in the farther set lived the Clarks, whose sons, Loren and Jess, were in grammar school when we were in junior high. Harold Clark was my father''s best friend. He had five hundred acres and no mortgage. The Ericsons had three hundred seventy acres and a mortgage.

Acreage and financing were facts as basic as the name and gender in Zebulon County. Harold Clark and my father used to argue at our kitchen table about who should get the Ericson land when they finally lost their mortgage. I was aware of this whenever I played with Ruthie Ericson, whenever my mother, my sister Rose, and I went over to help can garden produce, whenever Mrs. Ericson brought over some pies or doughnuts, whenever my father loaned Mr. Ericson a tool, whenever we ate Sunday dinner in the Ericson''s kitchen. I recognized the justice of Harold Clark''s opinion that the Ericson'' land was on his side of the road, but even so, I thought it should be us. For one thing, Dinah Ericson''s bedroom had a window seat in the closet that I coveted. For another, I thought it appropriate and desirable that the great circle of the flat earth spreading out from the T intersection of County Road 686 and Cabot Street be ours. A thousand acres. It was that simple.

It was 1951 and I was eight when I saw the farm and the future in this way. That was the year my father bought his first car, a Buick sedan with prickly gray velvet seats, so rounded and slick that it was easy to slide off the backseat into the footwell when we went over a stiff bump or around a sharp corner. That was also the year my sister Caroline was born, which was undoubtedly the reason my father bought the car. The Ericson Children and the Clark children continued to ride in the back of the farm pickup, but the Cook children kicked their toes against a front seat and stared out the back windows, nicely protected from the dust. The car was the exact measure of six hundred forty acres compared to three hundred or five hundred.

In spite of the price of gasoline, we took a lot of rides that year, something farmers rarely do, and my father never again did after Caroline was born. For me, it was a pleasure like a secret hoard of coins--Rose, whom I adored, sitting against me in the hot musty velvet luxury of the car''s interior, the click of the gravel on its undercarriage, the sensation of the car swimming in the rutted road, the farms passing every minute, reduced from vastness to insignificance by our speed; the unaccustomed sense of leisure; most important, though, the reassuring note of my father''s and mother''s voices commenting on what they saw--he on the progress of the yearly work and the condition of the animals in the pastures, she on the look and size of the house and garden, the colors of the buildings. Their tones of voice were unhurried and self-confident, complacent with the knowledge that the work at our place was farther along, the buildings at our place more imposing and better cared for. When I think of them now, I think how they had probably seen nearly as little of the world as I had by that time. But when I listened to their duet then, I nestled into the certainty of the way, through the repeated comparisons, our farm and our lives seemed secure and good.

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4.2 out of 54.2 out of 5
974 global ratings

Top reviews from the United States

FaithOryx
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
A Book Club Review of A Thousand Acres, Examination of Quality, Discussion, etc.
Reviewed in the United States on October 3, 2017
This is a book club review of A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley. Our book club had seven women present who read the book in entirety, ages 31 to 42. This was our 52nd read and our fifth Pulitzer. We rate books on their quality and readability, as well as the discussion they... See more
This is a book club review of A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley. Our book club had seven women present who read the book in entirety, ages 31 to 42. This was our 52nd read and our fifth Pulitzer. We rate books on their quality and readability, as well as the discussion they prompt. We also play trivia games and enjoy themed potlucks, and that plays into the rating as well. This particular book rated very high, in our top ten reads, with a score of seven out of ten. I won''t summarize the book here much, as there are many reviews that serve that purpose, and will stick mostly to an examination of this book as a book club option.

Quality/readability/discussion: This is a very well-written book with lots of depth, wit, word play, and emotion. The characters are well developed and their growth is a well-paced, slow reveal. There is a good tension and pacing to the pages. The subject matter may seem dull (the central female characters live mostly in a farm setting with their family, and the major crisis deals with family trauma) but the story is anything but that. Despite the rural and bucolic background, this book is a page-turning, taunt tale. There are many layers to these characters that unfold slowly and deliciously. The discussion went on for hours. We, of course, discussed the obvious connection to Shakespeare''s King Lear - and that particular topic was engrossing. Smiley presents the older two daughters (in the play, they were the one-dimensional villains) in a more sympathetic light... giving depth and reason to their decisions. There were many topics here that we picked apart including family dynamics, feminist angles, money, hierarchy, destiny, history, and Americana. Six out of seven women felt that the book was very readable, with one member siting it as a difficult or challenging read. See below for TRIGGER topics (which present spoilers) if you have any worry about this book as a viable option.

Games/Food/Etc.: This book developed a fun potluck theme (ironically... the potluck itself) as there were lots of mentions of church suppers, country dinners, country kitchens, and of course... the cuisine of Midwest Iowa. The games were lots of fun as well, with a highlight being Shakespeare trivia.

Overall: This book rated high due to readability and great discussion. The book was praised for its quality of writing and its amazing, intellectual, and fresh examination of one of Shakespeare''s lesser-known works. Everyone enjoyed the surprising twists and turns found within the narrative. One member found the book a bit dry and boring, but all of the other members found it to be fascinating (which was a bit of a fun surprise, as our favorite genre is thrillers/mysteries).

TRIGGER WARNINGS: DO NOT READ BELOW IF YOU DO NOT WANT SPOILERS. These topics could be considered trigger items for some book club readers. Please note that none of our book club members had any issues with these topics and the way they were explored or presented, but I include them as I get a request often to do so. This book includes feminist topics, adultery, a woman suffering from breast cancer, molestation/sexual abuse, and a graphic injury that occurs "off camera."
52 people found this helpful
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Mindo'ermatter
3.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Tough Story Told Well but Totally Exhausting!
Reviewed in the United States on October 24, 2020
Not a happy book, Smiley''s stark revision of Shakespeare''s tragedy, King Lear, is even more disturbing than the Bard''s excruciatingly painful story. Told as a first-person experiential narrative by Ginny, the eldest of Larry Clark''s daughters, this woeful tale has all the... See more
Not a happy book, Smiley''s stark revision of Shakespeare''s tragedy, King Lear, is even more disturbing than the Bard''s excruciatingly painful story. Told as a first-person experiential narrative by Ginny, the eldest of Larry Clark''s daughters, this woeful tale has all the imperfections of a family story told through the distortions of a flawed primary character, lacking both perspective and honest objectivity.

Clouded by Ginny''s own reality of things, we only know what she tells us, how she feels about others, and her reactions to the facts. As such, her account, distorted by her own troubling experiences, creates an ambiguous and often conflicting description of a dysfunctional and multigenerational farming family in a small Iowan farming community.

Smiley''s provocative storytelling has two unretractable consequences. The first is how she changes forever how readers will view King Lear again. Although she likely did not intend to corrupt Shakespeare''s original text by imposing so many ulterior motives and acts upon the characters; nonetheless, her sharp revisionist projections force prejudicial interpretations upon readers they wished they never had. The second consequence from reading Smiley''s work is the overwhelming gloom and sadness thrust upon readers, leaving them to carry the novel''s burdens forward and into their own lives. Although many readers might relate to portions of the storyline, the emotional trauma of this read might create lasting scars and distorted perspectives.

One of the novel''s strengths is its eye-opening glimpse of rural agricultural families and communities, whose livelihoods depend upon favorable weather and economic conditions. The stresses on family farms and those running them are palpable and unforgettable.

Smiley''s vivid character''s are both believable and unforgettable, possibly unforgivable too. I didn''t like any of them and hated the living hell they created for each other and especially for themselves.

I forced myself to finish the book, feeling disappointed with the overall experience. My motivation to compete the novel was to see how Smiley''s interpretations might reshape the ending given its modern context and Iowa setting. However, I was disappointed with how it ended and its nihilist perspectives of life. Ugh!

Although the book is well written and Audible''s narration well performed, the dearth of hope and complete despair the work created was a tragedy in itself. Ugh!

Potentially good for reading groups or college classrooms, this book will likely create lots of questions and discussion but few solutions.
13 people found this helpful
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B. Mitchell-Dwyer
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
I was hooked!
Reviewed in the United States on August 8, 2018
As a Brit Lit teacher, I''ve never been much of a fan of American writers. But, I was looking for something to read on my Kindle, when this caught my eye--because of the King Lear similarities and the Pulitzer. Couldn''t put it down. The characters were so believable, the... See more
As a Brit Lit teacher, I''ve never been much of a fan of American writers. But, I was looking for something to read on my Kindle, when this caught my eye--because of the King Lear similarities and the Pulitzer. Couldn''t put it down. The characters were so believable, the knowledge of Iowa farming communities was vast...even though some "bad and sad" things happened, I didn''t want it to end. I will be reading more of Jane Smiley.
29 people found this helpful
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Cathryn Conroy
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
A Tragedy in the Classic Literary Sense
Reviewed in the United States on April 16, 2016
This is a tragedy in the classic literary sense. It''s the story of the demise of an American family farm, but more important it is the story of the demise of an American family by infighting, long-held secrets, mistrust and even evil. The plot begins when Larry Cook quite... See more
This is a tragedy in the classic literary sense. It''s the story of the demise of an American family farm, but more important it is the story of the demise of an American family by infighting, long-held secrets, mistrust and even evil. The plot begins when Larry Cook quite suddenly and unexpectedly gives his land of 1,000 acres to two of his three daughters, Ginny and Rose, while shutting out the third one, Caroline, entirely. The story is told in the first-person from the point of view of Ginny, the eldest daughter.

Loosely based on the plot of "King Lear," this Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Jane Smiley is a masterpiece that unabashedly delves into the hearts and souls of her characters, exposing something so raw and tender, one almost has to turn away because it seems so private and personal. But it is humanity she is exposing. It is all of us she is exposing.

You can fully understand and appreciate this book without ever having read "King Lear"; however, for those who have read Shakespeare''s play, it''s fun to see the parallels. Kindle''s X-Ray feature helpfully tells you how each character in "A Thousand Acres" is aligned to the characters in "King Lear."

Jane Smiley is a writer''s writer. I heard her speak at the 2015 National Book Festival, and she said she wanted to write books in many genres. This takes not only prodigious talent, but also great courage. It''s comfortable to write well in one way, especially after achieving commercial success. But it must be a bit unnerving to try something so radically different, and she seems to do this with each book she writes--and succeeds in it.
37 people found this helpful
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Joseph J. TruncaleTop Contributor: Boxing
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
An interesting and unique approach to a family and the dynamics of conflict.
Reviewed in the United States on November 3, 2020
This popular author (Jane Smiley) won a Pulitzer Prize for fiction for this very interesting modern fictional adaptation of Shakespeare’s King Lear. This is a story about a wealthy Iowa farmer who desires to split up his farm between his three daughters. Because of a... See more
This popular author (Jane Smiley) won a Pulitzer Prize for fiction for this very interesting modern fictional adaptation of Shakespeare’s King Lear. This is a story about a wealthy Iowa farmer who desires to split up his farm between his three daughters. Because of a conflict between the father and his youngest daughter, she is taken out of his will.

This results in various situations that bring dark information creating conflicts within the family. Like King Lear the theme of treachery, justice, pride and truth is brought out in this novel.

Fans of the works of Shakespeare’s King Lear will recognize this author’s unique treatment of a family in conflict taking place in modern times but the themes are universal and timeless.
Rating: 5 Stars. Joseph J. Truncale (Author: Martial Art and Warrior Haiku and Senryu).
3 people found this helpful
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Uitlander
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Well Placed Contrast Makes for an Explosive Novel
Reviewed in the United States on January 10, 2019
I finally read this Pulitzer Prize winning novel after many years of reading something else instead. I''m sorry I delayed so long. It has many well crafted features that make it stand out as a literary gem. Clearly, the author has spent considerable time around Iowa farm... See more
I finally read this Pulitzer Prize winning novel after many years of reading something else instead. I''m sorry I delayed so long. It has many well crafted features that make it stand out as a literary gem. Clearly, the author has spent considerable time around Iowa farm families. She knows that men are occupied by tasks like moisture levels in corn or gauging the best day to sell hogs. Farm women do drive combines and neuter piglets, but are expected to fix early breakfasts and keep up household appearances as well. I read page after page of this 30 something farm wife going on and on about her cooking, her cleaning, her weeding, her bean picking, her canning, her dosing a jar of sauerkraut with poison to kill her sister...What! WTF?
Jane Smiley knows when to unleash her thunderbolts. Just when the American pastoral setting is at dead calm, she summons one of the deadly sins onto the page. They all show up. Some critics have found this exhibition too atypical to be believed, but I think some people who feel cheated by life resort to extremes when outrageousness is tolerated. Old Larry Cook (the stand in for King Lear), acquired a thousand acres, begot three daughters and destroyed it all. When I read his dialog I heard Chuck Grassley''s voice in my head. (Sorry Senator.)
Towards the end of the book the author implants sections that serve as motivation for the next course of action and deserve to be read carefully. The conversation between Ginny and Rose in Chapter 38 is crucial. There are well written summations as well including the epilogue.
7 people found this helpful
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C. D. Elder
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Shakespeare in 1979 Iowa
Reviewed in the United States on August 16, 2021
This tale of familial love and ambition set against the sunset of the American family farm is said to be a retelling of Shakespeare’s ‘King Lear.’ No doubt those elements are there - imperious fathers, blindings of same, incest, adultery, revenge. The authentic agriculture... See more
This tale of familial love and ambition set against the sunset of the American family farm is said to be a retelling of Shakespeare’s ‘King Lear.’ No doubt those elements are there - imperious fathers, blindings of same, incest, adultery, revenge. The authentic agriculture aspect is just as strong - debt treadmill, soil depletion, pesticide poisoning, seasonal rhythms, family legacies. All these elements are stirred together through psychologically complex characters into a rich tale you will not soon forget.
One person found this helpful
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Anna Leuenberger
2.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Nope
Reviewed in the United States on October 17, 2019
Slow like plowing a muddy farm field. Speed read to get to ending to see if any thing interesting happens It doesn’t.
5 people found this helpful
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Top reviews from other countries

Katelon
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Gripping mid-western version of King Lear
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on October 16, 2015
I''m quite suspicious of "award winning novels" because that can mean they are grim and inaccessible. The idea of reading some recent ManBooker prizewinners gives me the shudders. 1000 acres is certainly grim reading but if you are reading a modern re-telling of King...See more
I''m quite suspicious of "award winning novels" because that can mean they are grim and inaccessible. The idea of reading some recent ManBooker prizewinners gives me the shudders. 1000 acres is certainly grim reading but if you are reading a modern re-telling of King Lear you wouldn''t expect a barrel of laughs. Jane Smiley does a brilliant job of translating it to the mid-west and in the process sheds an interesting life on the Shakespearean source material. Her writing is tough but not overwrought and the story has the hideous inevitability of a Greek tragedy. I couldn''t put it down - but I won''t be re-reading it any time soon.
7 people found this helpful
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Dr. K. E. Patrick
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Moving, haunting, clever
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on June 14, 2015
This book is so amazing. I can''t believe the effective way that Smiley weaves the story of King Lear into a modern farming family in the Mid-West, and tells it from the character who equates to Goneril. I would dearly love to teach this book to my homeschooled high school...See more
This book is so amazing. I can''t believe the effective way that Smiley weaves the story of King Lear into a modern farming family in the Mid-West, and tells it from the character who equates to Goneril. I would dearly love to teach this book to my homeschooled high school students, but there is (sorry -- general spoilers -- look away now) adultery, a couple of sex scenes, and incest, which I think aren''t appropriate for the students I teach. For adults, though, yeah -- a modern classic, and the author deserves all her accolades.
3 people found this helpful
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Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
One of the Very Best Recent American Novels
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on January 1, 2016
This book follows the fortunes and failures of a Mid-Western farming family. The initial situation is based on King Lear with three daughters vying for their father’s favours and affections. But don’t let that put you off. It follows its own narrative with its own plot,...See more
This book follows the fortunes and failures of a Mid-Western farming family. The initial situation is based on King Lear with three daughters vying for their father’s favours and affections. But don’t let that put you off. It follows its own narrative with its own plot, revelations and development. The family members are exposed not only to their own internal conflicts but also to powerful forces changing the world around them. An outstanding book that keeps the reader involved every step of the way.
3 people found this helpful
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lyn harbird
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on December 16, 2014
A reworking of King Lear, this is a well-written modern day take on the Shakespearian play. It is interesting because the events which take place are seen through the eyes of one of the daughters. The father figure is a very strong uncompromising character who treats his...See more
A reworking of King Lear, this is a well-written modern day take on the Shakespearian play. It is interesting because the events which take place are seen through the eyes of one of the daughters. The father figure is a very strong uncompromising character who treats his daughters as possessions, there to do his bidding. Only the youngest daughter has escaped from the stiflingly rigid way of life in this farming community where everyone knows everyone else''s business. The strong family structure disintegrates as events unfold. A really good read.
2 people found this helpful
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Barnes On Tour
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Interesting take on King Lear
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on August 29, 2013
I enjoyed this book but it''s not a 5 star read for me as I felt characters and situations were rather too black and white. There were no good men and the women were meant to be stars but were a bit pathetic. I don''t feel the urge to rush out and read any of her other books...See more
I enjoyed this book but it''s not a 5 star read for me as I felt characters and situations were rather too black and white. There were no good men and the women were meant to be stars but were a bit pathetic. I don''t feel the urge to rush out and read any of her other books but her writing is good and the story trips along quite nicely.
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A wholesale Thousand sale Acres: A Novel sale

A wholesale Thousand sale Acres: A Novel sale

A wholesale Thousand sale Acres: A Novel sale

A wholesale Thousand sale Acres: A Novel sale

A wholesale Thousand sale Acres: A Novel sale

A wholesale Thousand sale Acres: A Novel sale

A wholesale Thousand sale Acres: A Novel sale

A wholesale Thousand sale Acres: A Novel sale

A wholesale Thousand sale Acres: A Novel sale

A wholesale Thousand sale Acres: A Novel sale

A wholesale Thousand sale Acres: A Novel sale

A wholesale Thousand sale Acres: A Novel sale

A wholesale Thousand sale Acres: A Novel sale

A wholesale Thousand sale Acres: A Novel sale

A wholesale Thousand sale Acres: A Novel sale

A wholesale Thousand sale Acres: A Novel sale

A wholesale Thousand sale Acres: A Novel sale

A wholesale Thousand sale Acres: A Novel sale

A wholesale Thousand sale Acres: A Novel sale

A wholesale Thousand sale Acres: A Novel sale

A wholesale Thousand sale Acres: A Novel sale

A wholesale Thousand sale Acres: A Novel sale

A wholesale Thousand sale Acres: A Novel sale

A wholesale Thousand sale Acres: A Novel sale

A wholesale Thousand sale Acres: A Novel sale

A wholesale Thousand sale Acres: A Novel sale