Jane Smiley*moved back Pulitzer Prize for this novel A thousand acres in English, translated into French under the title Operation.
We are in 1979, in the United States of America, in the state of Iowa, in the canton of Zébulon. Deep, rural, earthy, agricultural America. Hectares and hectares of land, hard won on the marshes that existed before the arrival of the pioneers more than a century ago.
The Cook family is one of the first to arrive and the pride of Larry, the father, is to have been there since the beginning, to have been able, by dint of patience and sometimes trickery, to increase the size of the family farm to 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 entrants to increase production. Do as the ancestors did, do not question anything.
Organic farming…A kind of sweet dreamer’s fantasy, groundwater pollution…We’ve always drunk well water…and Rose’s breast cancer or Ginny’s repeated miscarriages are due to “ bad 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 people say” is a very heavy social regulator.
In this place lives the Cook family: father Larry, widower, manager 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 suffocator and made a brilliant career as a lawyer.
One evening, during a party where as usual he drank too much, Larry decides to share the estate between his two eldest daughters, Caroline having excluded herself, following the vision of things of the pater familias.
This legacy will lead each of the three sisters, essentially the two eldest, to take stock of their lives and above all to bring to the surface all the evil that their father did to them. Because in fact this man respected by all, showed in the family intimacy his true nature: a very violent, incestuous pervert, who destroyed the lives of his first two.
They did everything to preserve their youngest and helped her escape the family hell. Ginny, she is 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, not afraid of confrontations and tries to convince the eldest to follow her in her desire for revenge. Thus, she wants her father to understand the evil he has done, and to pay for it.
The conflicts come to a head when Larry shouts his hatred at his two daughters and goes wandering in the countryside one stormy evening. Of course he proclaims everywhere that they chased him out of his home. Supported by Caroline, who has become completely senile, he wants to recover his property. But if he fails, the two couples are forever destroyed 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 eldest are not the manipulators, but victims, and they do not despise their father when they have the inheritance contrary to what ‘he thinks. Caroline is not quite Cordélia: she loves her father, wants to help him, but locks herself in total denial by refusing to understand her sisters’ ordeal and their actions to save her.
A very beautiful novel, without nostalgia, about a world that once 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 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 more recently, the trilogy The Last Hundred Years: Some Luck, Early Warning, and Golden Age. She is also the author of several non-fiction and young adult books. 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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“The Exploitation”, in the heart of deep America, Pulitzer Prize – Wukali