Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Jane Smiley's A Thousand Acres (1991)

I've been listening to Jane Smiley's A Thousand Acres on the Ipod for the past month or so. 

I often listen while I'm working in the yard, which I guess is appropriate since a major theme of the novel is the way that working the land shapes different people in different ways (this is not to say that I'm working the land in any significant way, just cutting grass and watering flowers and pruning; it does make me feel satisfied, and I can see why dad has always enjoyed it so much).

Earlier this summer I read Smiley's Good Faith, which I liked better. A Thousand Acres is quite deliberate in pacing, and -- so far (I'm only about a third-in) -- it hasn't broken any new thematic ground or introduced any really intriguing characters. 

But I do like the way that both novels deal with real estate as almost a character unto itself; this is especially relevant given that I'm doing primarily real estate work now that Joe has left R&F. 

Another problem with Acres is that the narrator, Ginny, seems a bit self-righteous or goody-two-shoes.  Here's the way that Gary Kamiya described her at Salon (here):
"The sensitive-unto-death narrative voice was dissonant and grating: Ginny came across as too intelligent and self-aware to be as clueless and numb as she was supposed to be."
455. What's the root of the phrase "goody-two-shoes"?

456. Who is the most famous writer who spent a significant portion of his or her life working as a farmer?

Acres won the Pulitzer Prize in 1992. I hadn't realized this from listening to it, but Smiley bases the story on King Lear: the main character is a patriarchal father with three daughters who each struggles in her own way with the relationship with dad.  I guess I didn't pick up on the connection because I've never seen or read Lear.

One of the fun points of Acres is that the father (Larry Cook) triggers a lot of the plot developments when he transfers ownership of the farm (using a corporation (this was in the days before LLC's)) to his daughters and their husbands.  Since intergenerational-land-transfer is a phenomena with which we advise and work with people, it's interesting for me to read a fictional account of a family's emotional responses --- similar to the way that I enjoyed reading a fictional account of real estate contract-negotiations in Good Faith.

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