A Thousand Acres Critical Context - Essay

Jane Smiley

Critical Context

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The complexities of human relationships are at the heart of Jane Smiley’s work, and intimate portraits of families make up the majority of her novels, novellas, and short stories. Even her historical saga The Greenlanders (1988), an epic novel set in the fourteenth century, focuses on families and relationships that help bring the era she has re-created to life.

Most of Smiley’s work involves portraits of contemporary life, as is the case with her short-story collection The Age of Grief (1987), which was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award. The book’s title story is told from the point of view of a man whose marriage is failing; her 1989 novellas Ordinary Love and Good Will, published together, also feature strong narrative voices from characters whose family lives have taken unexpected and unhappy turnings. This narrative device is one that Smiley uses to extraordinary effect in A Thousand Acres, as the reader experiences the unfolding events from Ginny’s point of view. Like Smiley’s earlier work, the novel places families and their interactions at the heart of its story and uses them as a means of exploring the universal aspects of the human experience.

A Thousand Acres is Smiley’s best known and most acclaimed novel, although she has been the subject of much critical praise throughout her career. In addition to its favorable critical reception, the book received both the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Pulitzer Prize.