A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley must be the longest book of bland narration I have endured in my life. Yet, I pursued the book doggedly, with the one aim that I must read the book before trashing it here. It limps along for almost 70% of the book with reams and reams of boring narration. And then suddenly like the author just woke up, there is a much contrived pretentious hyperactive melodrama and an abrupt, hurried closure. The feeling is of having trudged all the way to the top of Mt. Everest just to be suddenly pushed off the cliff.
The book revolves around a family that owns a hundred acres of farming land. The family comprises an old widower, his two married daughters and their husbands and the dynamics (i.e. if you look hard enough) of their relationships. The father had sexually abused his two daughters as kids and that has long term consequences in how they see each other. The book ends with the older daughter walking out of her disfunctional family.
I admit that until recently, society has been very patriarchal, unjust towards the woman. Even now, women are victimized solely on account of their sex. But sometimes do we take it too far? The book suggests that all men are evil – the father who crushes his daughters, the husband who wife-beats and later rejects her because of her mastectomy, the husband who worries more of his hog farm than wife, the neighbour who manipulates the two sisters for his own sexual needs, the neighbour who badmouths the sisters …as I think back, I can’t remember a single male character who has been portrayed as normal. They are all fiends, out to get women. The protagonist, Ginny,who gives in to everyone’s whims and fancies througout the book, suddenly walks out on her husband because she has had enough. Are we supposed to sympathise with her? Are we supposed to sympathise with anyone at all in the story? The women have their own agendas (except of course Ginny, who is an angel who has been “pushed” beyond endurance) and the men are evil. A law suit, heartbreaking senility of the father who was once a heartless monster, bankruptcy, a scheming ungrateful sister, extra marital affairs, dishonesty, divorce, miscarriages, deception – all elements to add to the sense of utter hopelessness. For the reader that is. The author must have known the moment she wrote the last sentence that she has pulled a smart one.