A Thousand Acres
Goodreads ratings
3.8 / 5

"A Thousand Acres" Summary

By Jane Smiley

fiction | 385 pages | Published in 2011


Estimated read time: 5 min read

One Sentence Summary

A family's dark secrets and conflicts surface when three sisters navigate their father's decline and the allure of the family farm.


In this book summary, we will delve into the captivating world of "A Thousand Acres" by Jane Smiley. This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel takes readers on a gripping journey through the lives of the Cook family, revealing the complexities of family dynamics, identity, and the dark secrets that lie beneath the surface. As we explore the plot, characters, and themes, we will discover the profound lessons this book has to offer.

Brief Synopsis

Jane Smiley masterfully crafts the plot of "A Thousand Acres" around the lives of the Cook family, residing in the fictional town of Zebulon County in Iowa. The story is narrated from the viewpoint of Ginny Cook Smith, the eldest daughter of Larry Cook, a wealthy farmer, and his wife, Blanche.

The novel begins with an idyllic setting, portraying the vast and fertile land embraced by Larry Cook's thousand-acre farm. However, this tranquil facade is quickly shattered when Larry decides to divide the farm among his three daughters, Ginny, Rose, and Caroline. The action of dividing the land causes turmoil within the tightly knit family and unleashes a chain of events that expose deep-rooted resentment, betrayal, and hidden traumas.

As the story progresses, we witness the unraveling of the Cook family as long-buried secrets are uncovered. Ginny is caught in the midst, torn between loyalty to her father and her sisters' growing rebellion. The plot takes several unexpected turns, accentuating the sisters' struggle for independence and self-discovery while confronting the ghosts of the past. The narrative builds towards a riveting climax that tests the bonds of sisterhood and unveils the consequences of suppressed truths.

Main Characters

Ginny Cook SmithThe protagonist and narrator of the story, Ginny is a middle-aged woman struggling with her identity and family loyalty.
Larry CookGinny's father and the owner of the thousand-acre farm. His decision to divide the land sets the story in motion.
Rose Cook LewisGinny's younger sister, Rose is outspoken and rebellious. She becomes a central character in challenging her father.
Caroline CookThe youngest sister, Caroline, is portrayed as the black sheep of the family, leaving home and living in the city.
Jess ClarkGinny's husband and a steadfast supporter, Jess provides stability in her life but also has secrets of his own.

Themes and Insights

1. Family and Identity - "A Thousand Acres" explores the intricate dynamics within a family and the impact of individual identities on these relationships. The novel delves into the complexities of family loyalty, the bonds that tie us together, and the influence our past has on shaping our sense of self.

2. Betrayal and Secrets - Deeply rooted in the storyline is the theme of betrayal and the devastating consequences of keeping dark secrets. As the characters' secrets slowly come to light, the narrative reveals the destructive power that lies beneath the surface of seemingly normal relationships.

3. Gender and Power - The novel provides insightful commentary on the role of gender and power dynamics in society and within the family unit. Smiley highlights the challenges faced by women in a patriarchal society, their struggle for autonomy, and the long-lasting impact of oppressive gender roles.

4. Nature and Land - The setting of a large Midwest farming community plays a crucial role in the plot. The connection between the characters and the land they work on is intricately woven into the narrative, symbolizing their relationship with nature, their heritage, and the roots they can't escape.

Reader's Takeaway

"A Thousand Acres" is a thought-provoking and emotionally charged novel that offers readers an immersive experience into the depths of familial dynamics. Jane Smiley's powerful storytelling, complex characters, and exploration of universal themes make this book a must-read for anyone interested in the complexities of family relationships, identity, and the consequences of secrets.

The novel's ability to tackle heavy subjects while maintaining a captivating plot and evocative prose showcases Smiley's skill as a storyteller. Readers will be left with a heightened sense of introspection, pondering the intricacies of their own familial connections and the importance of confronting and reconciling with the past.


In conclusion, "A Thousand Acres" is a mesmerizing novel that expertly delves into the complexities of family relationships, identity, and the destructive power of secrets. Jane Smiley's writing captures the essence of the human experience, offering readers profound insights into the nature of betrayal, power, and redemption. As we journey through the lives of the Cook family, we are invited to reflect on our own relationships and the significance of understanding and accepting our past.

A Thousand Acres FAQ

  1. What is the genre of the book 'A Thousand Acres'?

    The book 'A Thousand Acres' is a contemporary fiction novel.

  2. Who is the author of 'A Thousand Acres'?

    The author of 'A Thousand Acres' is Jane Smiley.

  3. What is the story about in 'A Thousand Acres'?

    The story revolves around the lives of three sisters and their father, who is a wealthy farmer in Iowa. The book explores themes of family relationships, secret histories, and the consequences of past actions.

  4. Is 'A Thousand Acres' based on a true story?

    No, 'A Thousand Acres' is a work of fiction.

  5. What awards has 'A Thousand Acres' won?

    The book won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1992.

  6. Is 'A Thousand Acres' suitable for young readers?

    The book deals with adult themes and contains some mature content, so it is more suitable for mature readers.

  7. How long is the book 'A Thousand Acres'?

    The length of the book 'A Thousand Acres' is approximately 400 pages.

  8. Are there any movie adaptations of 'A Thousand Acres'?

    Yes, there is a movie adaptation of 'A Thousand Acres' released in 1997, directed by Jocelyn Moorhouse and starring Michelle Pfeiffer and Jessica Lange.

  9. Where can I buy 'A Thousand Acres'?

    You can purchase 'A Thousand Acres' from various online booksellers, such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or your local bookstore.

  10. What is the publication date of 'A Thousand Acres'?

    'A Thousand Acres' was first published in 1991.