A Thousand Acres
by Jane Smiley
Having read a few reviews of this book I find myself in the unusual position of reading it without the benefit of a working knowledge of Shakespeare's King Lear, from which it draws its inspiration. Belle had read it for her book group and finding myself in need of reading material, I picked it up blind.
First off, this isnt really King Lear reworked, an ancient English King replaced by a successful farmer from Iowa in the American Midwest.
To preserve the Shakespearean link, the main characters names share an initial letter:
Laurence (Larry) Cook - the father = King Lear
Ginny (eldest daughter and narrator) = Goneril
Rose (middle daughter) = Regan
Caroline (youngest daughter) = Cordelia
In both tales the king / farmer steps down from his position of power and hand over his estate to his daughters. The youngest daughter ends up rejected and the father is driven into insanity by the betrayal of his older two daughters, roaming moors / fields in thunderstorm.
All the characters are both tragic and flawed without a redeeming character among them. It therefore makes for a heavy read. I struggled my way through it after several weeks of perseverance. Maybe its better with a greater interest in Shakespeare's tragedies, but read cold is was turgid stuff. But hey, I like optimistic endings - hope for the future and some chinks of good. This is as dour and the East Enders cast and for the same reason having tasted in once I cant get excited about it.
That said, it is beautifully written with narrative as rich as the alluvial soil on which the farm sits.
I can see the literary qualities in this book but I am afraid its not for me.