Monthly Archives: April 2023

A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley

Ok, wow, this book might be a little too on the nose. I definitely identified with certain aspects of it. Overall, A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley is a good book, written by a objectively talented writer.

I read some short stories by Smiley in undergrad, but I hadn’t ever returned, until now. This book is about a farming family and the challenges they face as they try to navigate what to do with the land as the patriarch ages, an incredibly complicated and tough challenge. Smiley does an amazing job of navigating people’s natural fears, jealousies, ambitions, trauma, heartache, and more, with nuance. In fact, I found myself reading her bio, wondering if she had a rural background. Her understanding of, for example, how women cook food just felt so very rural midwestern and real. However, it appears that she grew up in the suburbs, which is baffling because she knows this world so well. According to her bibliography, she’s written other rural texts too. Maybe she has grandparents who were farmers.

I do have a critique of the book, and it’s one I would like to ask her about. [Spoiler ahead] In the book, a pretty shocking level of abuse is revealed. While I think this is valid subject matter, the abuse is so stunning that it reaches the point of distraction, from the narrative, from some other purposes, etc. I believe it was Hemingway who advised that an author should start the story after the beloved character dies, and I wondered what this book might be like, better perhaps, if this abuse remained an undercurrent that the author never fully revealed. The sexism and mind games alone were enough to warrant the characters’ complex emotional landscape. I just think it might’ve been more interesting to leave out the more overt stories of abuse, letting it subtly infuse the scene, without letting it completely taking over, and letting the more nuanced, but no less interesting dramas, have more emphasis throughout.


Olivia: A Novel by Dorothy Strachey

In one of her books, Elena Ferrante references Olivia, a novel published anonymously by Dorothy Strachey in 1949, and so I read it next. It is a slow short novel that burns brightly at the very end. I wondered why it’s not a more well-known book, but I think the subject matter and age difference between “Olivia” and her teacher are key reasons. At times it felt like somewhat of a reverse Lolita. Interestingly, this novel was written several years prior.

In the end, while I don’t necessarily recommend it as your typical light read, I do think the book has literary merit on the grounds that it seems to capture a Freudian influence and understanding of the world. Many books and authors were doing something similar at the time, and it, no doubt, had an impact on art today.