Jane Smiley *moved back Pulitzer Prize for this novel, A thousand acres in English, translated into French under the title Exploitation.
We are in 1979, in the United States of America, in the state of Iowa, in the township of Zébulon. America deep, rural, land, agricultural. Hectares and hectares of land, hard won on the swamps that preexisted before the arrival of the pioneers more than a century ago.
The Cook family are among the first to arrive and the pride of Larry, the father, is to be there from the beginning, to have known, by dint of patience and sometimes cunning, to increase the size of the family farm until to have 400 hectares. A life dedicated to agriculture, to the yield of the most important, with mentalities of the past: no debt, mechanization of course, employing people to increase production. Do as the ancestors did, do not question anything.
Organic farming… A kind of dreamers’ fantasy, the pollution of the groundwater… We have always drunk well water… and Rose’s breast cancer or Ginny’s repeated miscarriages are due to ” no luck ”and certainly not to any poisoning of the water by fertilizers and other pesticides.
Small place in the depths of the United States of America, sparsely populated, everyone knows each other and the “what will we say” is a very heavy social regulator.
In this place lives the Cook family: the father Larry, widower, head of the exploitation who cultivates it with his two sons-in-law: Ty, husband of Ginny, the eldest, and Pete, husband of Rose. The third daughter Caroline came out of this chokehold and made a brilliant career as a lawyer.
One evening, during a party where, as usual, he had drunk too much, Larry decides to share the domain between his two eldest children, Caroline having excluded herself from herself, following the vision of the pater familias.
This legacy will lead each of the three sisters, essentially the two oldest, to take stock of their life and above all to bring to the surface all the harm their father did them. Because in fact this man respected by all, showed in the family intimacy his true nature: a very violent pervert, incestuous, who destroyed the life of his first two.
They did everything to preserve their younger daughter and helped her escape the family hell. Ginny, she’s passive, in total denial about the repeated paternal rapes, seeks conciliation, always tries to find excuses for her father. As for Rose, she is in revolt, does not fear confrontations and tries to convince the elder to follow her in her desire for revenge. So, she wants her father to understand the wrong he has done, and to pay for it.
The conflicts come to a head when Larry shouts his hatred on his two daughters and goes wandering in the countryside on a stormy evening. Of course he proclaims everywhere that they have kicked him out of his home. Supported by Caroline, now completely senile, he wants to get his property back. But if he fails, the two couples are destroyed forever and the farm ends up being sold.
Jane smiley transposed the King Lear by William Shakespeare in the United States of America at the end of the 1970s. However, the two older ones are not the manipulators, but the victims, and they do not despise their father when they have the inheritance, contrary to what ‘he thinks. Caroline is not quite Cordelia: she loves her father, wants to help him, but locks herself in total denial by refusing to understand the plight of her sisters and their actions to save her.
A very beautiful novel, without nostalgia, about a world that has existed and that we hope no longer exists. Endearing characters, except Larry, of course, who somehow follow their path, their dreams, trying not to be too slaves to the wounds of their past.
Rivages pocket editions. 10 € 70
JANE SMILEY* is the author of numerous novels, including The Exploitation (A Thousand Acres), which received the Pulitzer Prize, and most recently, the trilogy The Last Hundred Years: Some Luck, Early Warning, and Golden Age. She is also the author of several non-fiction works and books for young adults. A member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, she also received the PEN Center USA Lifetime Achievement Award for Literature. She lives in Northern California.
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“Exploitation”, in the heart of deep America, Pulitzer Prize – Wukali