Sara flies from her home in Sweden to nowhereville, Iowa to visit a pen pal and fellow book lover, but when she arrives, nothing is as she expected. The people surprise her, the town isn’t much of a town at all, and her old standby — books — are hard to come by. So she makes a plan and makes some friends and puts the pieces of her life back together.
In the course of telling the story, Bivald writes in some contrivances that just made certain aspects of the plot too obviously fake to me. I also noticed that as I read I kept asking myself, “is that supposed to mean something?” Maybe Bivald wanted to integrate symbolism in places? But those were just two bumps in the road.
Most of the book went along quite smoothly, introducing the reader to some stereotypically exaggerated characters (the old maid, the gay guy, the town drunk) which, to me, made Sara seem all the more plain and subdued. But she surprises people and makes waves in her own way. 🙂
I really loved that Sara shared her love for reading in the best, most apt way possible. She shared herself through those books, and I could feel the other characters’ gratefulness.
The best part of the book was the happily ever after because it gave me that “sigh, everything is as it should be now” feeling. Settled. Which is something Sara only felt at the very end as well.
But THE READERS OF BROKEN WHEEL RECOMMEND
I first read this when I was around 17, doing a comparative literature course on Shakespeare and contemporary writers. This was my first time reading anything by Jane Smiley, and to be honest, the Pulitizer didn’t mean a whole lot to me! Now, I love King Lear – in fact, it is my favourite of Shakespeare’s published plays. Reading Shakespeare at 17, especially one of the less “famous” ones, was quite daunting, but reading Smiley’s interpretation alongside it, made it not only easier, but it gave me a better appreciation of it.
If you don’t know the plot, here is a very simplified version: Smiley presents us with a family that owns a 1000 acre farm in 1970’s Iowa. We have Larry, Caroline, Ginny and Rose who are obviously representing Lear, Goneril, Regan and Cordelia. Larry, who is getting on in years, decides to transfer ownership of his farm between his 3 daughters, with Caroline not agreeing. This begins a journey in which none of the characters fare very well.
Much like Shakespeare’s play, Smiley gives us a rich novel full of varying themes. However, it is also simple and honest. I say simple not as an insult, but indeed a compliment. Smiley is able portray common tragedies and instances of abhorrence and turn them into a multi-faceted series of events that propel the actions and growth of the characters.
I’m not going to go on and on about this book because sometimes, less is more!
If you haven’t read this novel, do yourself a favour and pick up a copy today!
A Thousand Acres: A Novel