Genre: literary fiction
Length: 371 pages
Setting: a farm in Iowa, 1979
Interest: It’s a Pulitzer Prize winner
Summary: The Cook family has farmed the same land for four generations. The current patriarch has decided to retire, turn the farm into a corporation, and sign it over to his daughters. The change in ownership also brings about huge changes in the family dynamics and leads ultimately to a loss of the family land. Ginny, the oldest daughter, has always been the good daughter, but now she has an affair and ultimately walks out on her marriage. Rose, the middle child, decides now is the time to get back at her father for sexually molesting her and Ginny as children. The father becomes erratic and paranoid in his behavior and Carolyn, the youngest, takes his side in the arguments. By the end, the family’s stability and relationships are completely ruined.
Final thoughts: Smiley draws you right into the world of the Cook family. What looked like a perfect farm family – lots of land, successful harvests, multiple generations working together – turns out to be anything but. The father ruled the roost, and as long as he was terrorizing everyone into doing what he wanted, the family just slid along as it always had. As soon as he stepped down, all the problems surfaced, and what a lot of problems there were – sexual abuse, suicide, infidelity. Apparently, the book was made into a movie as well.
Title comes from: The size of the Cook farm.
Awards won: National Book Critics Circle Award in 1991, Pulitzer Prize in 1992
Reading challenges fulfilled: 33/100 in my Finally to 100 Challenge, 8/12 in my Award Winning Challenge
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