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Date(s) - 01/08/2022
10:00 am - 12:30 pm

Via Zoom


A Thousand Acres  by Jane Smiley.  367 pages. Winner of 1991 National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction & 1992 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. European-American Iowa farm family; 1970s+.

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 favors 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.  Amazon reader.

With world migration increasing, the United States is rather rapidly transitioning racially, ethnically, and religiously.  We can see these changes causing stress and conflict around our country.

To help us consider the justice and compassion needed in these changing times, this season our book group is reading novels which explore the lives of six different ethnic groups here in the US.  In November we read Louise Erdrich’s The Night Watchman about challenges of Native Americans from North Dakota in the 1950s.  In December we read Brit Bennett’s The Vanishing Half, following two light-skinned Black twin sisters and their daughters in the 60s & 70s, starting in Louisiana and moving around the country.  For January, since many of us come from rather urban or suburban backgrounds, I’ve chosen A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley to show us experiences of a White American farm family in Iowa in the 1970s and on.

Published in 1991, this novel won the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction in 1991 and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1992.  It is a modernized retelling of Shakespeare‘s King Lear and is set on a thousand-acre farm in Iowa owned by a family of a father and his three daughters.

Here’s an adapted overview of it from Wikipedia: Larry Cook is an aging farmer who decides to incorporate his farm, handing complete and joint ownership to his three daughters, Ginny, Rose, and Caroline. When the youngest daughter objects, she is removed from the agreement. This sets off transitions that bring dark truths to light and explodes long-suppressed emotions.

There are many similarities between King Lear and A Thousand Acres, including both plot details and character development.  For example, some of the names of the main characters in the novel are reminiscent of their Shakespearean counterparts. Larry is Lear, Ginny is Goneril, Rose is Regan, and Caroline is Cordelia.

Members and friends are welcome to join our discussion— whether you’ve finished the book or not.  Be sure you are signed up with me for the Zoom invitation.