Jane Smiley – A Thousand Acres

a+thousand+acresThis the second book I finished in this slight break from studies here between my winter and spring quarter. I began this book during the summer before my fall term started. I thought that I might try to finish this book during the fall quarter at some point, but I am glad that I didn’t even try because this book is dark and difficult.

I really like Drew’s post on this as he incorporated the historical and adaptation angle on this work. Drew does the heavy lifting on the posting about the books, and I appreciate the care he puts into the posts. I try to post as soon as I have finished reading the books as to capture my truest reaction possible. What ends up happening is that I go back over the post, and disagree with everything that I have said about it. I also do this to put certain works behind me as soon as possible because I truly disliked some of them.
I appreciate this novel for its strength and beautiful, but I found its conclusions distasteful which I attribute not the to writer’s agenda but the most natural conclusions of such characters. What I think leads to this amazingly astute observations by Smiley is that she truly understood the characters she portrayed in this novel. At times they are too much of the Shakespeare than the modern character, but they are extremely convincing. Smiley writes with such force, such absolute and unmitigated force in this novel that it is sometimes staggering. I have never had to backtrack as much to figure out if I missed some level of subtext or if the way the story is told is just so disassociated that it almost hurt my neck in the whiplash you feel from her decisions and divisions in her life. Smiley understood her main character better than old married couples understand one another and that level of command of characterization is absolutely intoxicating.

When I put this book down, I thought that I hated it for putting me through the things that it did. I took a breath, and tried to give Smiley more credit than that. I never thought I would say this because the scenes were so difficult to read but I enjoyed the arguments in this book more than any other argument scene I think I have ever read. They were dark, so very very dark and harsh, but those speeches have been made by common stock folk for all time and place. Smiley’s dialogue is unforgiving, direct but deeply personal and entrenched in the characters she paints. Beyond this though, some of this work is out of place and awkward. There are moments when you can tell when she started and stopped writing, walked away and came back to it, and the disjuncture of the sections seem to lead out of some artifice at times. There are times when it feels like she is really trying to write well which is quite distracting, and other times when the matter-of-fact sentences churn out like machine gun fire that I am happy to accept. I am glad for having read this novel. I do not know if I would recommend this book to many people, and if I do it will come with a great disclaimer. Again, I am grateful for having read this book and being introduced to Smiley.


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