A Thousand Acres

A Thousand Acres

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Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Anchor Books edition of A Thousand Acres published in 2003.
Book 1, Chapter 3 Quotes

There was no way to tell by looking that the land beneath my childish feet wasn’t the primeval mold I read about in school, but it was new, created by magic lines of tile my father would talk about with pleasure and reverence. Tile “drew” the water, warmed the soil, and made it easy to work, enabled him to get into the field with his machinery a mere 24 hours after the heaviest storm.

Related Characters: Ginny Cook Smith (speaker), Laurence Cook
Page Number: 15
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Smiley sketches out a “creation myth” for the Cooks’ portion of the Midwestern United States. Ginny, the narrator of the novel, describes how her great-grandparents, and later her grandparents, built an elaborate agricultural system using “tiles” (mechanisms that filter the soil and make it easy to control). Larry inherited his ancestors’ tiles—not unlike a king inheriting a kingdom from his father. The passage lends a majestic, semi-mythological tone to the novel: Ginny feels tied to the farmland of her community, because it’s been in her family for a long, long time, and because her family actually changed the farmland at an almost geological level. If anybody has a claim to owning the land, it’s a Cook.


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Book 1, Chapter 4 Quotes

At the pig roast, Jess Clark and the new machinery were Harold’s twin exhibits, and guests from all over the area couldn’t resist, had no reason to resist, the way he ferried them between the two, asking for and receiving admiration with a kind of shameless innocence that he was known for.

Related Characters: Ginny Cook Smith (speaker), Harold Clark , Jess Clark
Page Number: 18
Explanation and Analysis:

Early on, Smiley gives us a vivid sense of the competitiveness and nosiness of small-town farm life. Because the community is pretty tiny population-wise, everybody knows about everybody else—there’s a constant surveillance process going on. When Jess Clark, Harold Clark’s “prodigal son,” returns from years of draft dodging and traveling, Harold makes sure he throws a party to prove to everybody that his family is strong: whether or nor he’s actually angry with his son, he wants to demonstrate to others that he’s proud of Jess and happy to have him home. As far as other neighbors are concerned, Jess is a “prop” for Harold, equated in the passage with Harold’s prized new tractor (a mark of his wealth and sophistication as a farmer). Harold wants to prove to other people in the community that he’s a successful man and a good father—there’s no better way to do both than to host a big party and invite everybody.

Book 1, Chapter 6 Quotes

We’ll stop making allowances tomorrow. This is important. He’s handing over his whole life, don’t you understand that? We have to receive it in the right spirit. And Rose and Pete and even Ty are ready to receive it. Just do it this once. Last time, I promise.

Related Characters: Ginny Cook Smith (speaker), Rose Cook Lewis , Caroline Cook , Laurence Cook , Tyler “Ty” Smith , Pete Lewis
Page Number: 34
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Ginny tries to convince her sister, Caroline, to go along with Larry’s plan to divide up his property between his three daughters. Previously, Caroline has been the only daughter to question her father’s sudden decision. Larry is getting older, he drinks a lot, and there are legitimate reasons to believe that he’s not in the right state of mind to voluntarily give up his own land and money. And yet Ginny and Rose go along with Larry’s decision—they want his property, even if they don’t admit it. Caroline, who, Ginny notes, has always loved Larry most dearly, is the only one to question Larry’s decision: an act that, on the surface of things, might seem disobedient, but is actually a sign of respect. It’s also important to note that Caroline is more financially independent than either of her siblings (she’s a lawyer) and less closely tied to her father’s farmland (unlike her siblings, she lives in Des Moines). It’s easier for Caroline to speak about the farmland frankly, because she’s not as biased by financial motives or by an emotional connection to the land.

The passage also implies some of Ginny’s latent guilt at accepting her father’s property so eagerly: she wants Caroline to accept her father’s generosity because of her own guilty conscience. Ginny tries to trick Caroline into accepting the money out of a sense of duty to her father—when in reality (as Caroline seems to know), the truly “dutiful” thing to do is probably to turn down the property altogether, or at least advise Larry to wait before making a rash decision.

Book 2, Chapter 8 Quotes

What is a farmer?
A farmer is a man who feeds the world.

Related Characters: Ginny Cook Smith (speaker), Laurence Cook
Page Number: 45
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Ginny reiterates some of the mythological, even religious elements of life on a farm. Larry is just a man—but he thinks of himself as doing almost holy work, providing food and nourishment for others. It’s hard to deny that Larry has a point: he does incredibly valuable work. And yet Larry’s high opinion of himself (an opinion that he’s passed onto his daughters, as evidenced by the quote, which he’s repeated many times over the years) is a kind of smokescreen. Because Larry thinks of himself as an important, powerful farmer, he can justify even his most morally dubious actions: taking advantage of his poorer neighbors, bullying his wife, and even abusing his children. By worshipping his own profession like this, Larry arguably feels justified in even his most horrible sins.

The passage is also a great example of the importance of appearances and images in Larry’s community. Larry tries to cultivate an image of benevolence and importance among his daughters and his neighbors, even though, deep down, he’s something very different altogether.

Book 2, Chapter 9 Quotes

I have this recurring nightmare about grabbing things that might hurt me, like that straight razor Daddy used to have, or a jar of some poison that spills on my hands. I know I shouldn’t and I watch myself, but I can’t resist.

Related Characters: Rose Cook Lewis (speaker), Ginny Cook Smith , Laurence Cook
Related Symbols: The Jar of Sausages
Page Number: 62
Explanation and Analysis:

Rose differs from her sister in many important ways; one of these is her acquisitiveness. Rose has no illusions about her personality: she was always a greedy person, even when she was a young child (or dreaming, as here). Whenever she saw something she liked, she had to have it immediately—even if the item in question was bad for her. Rose knows perfectly well that her greediness is a flaw: she recognizes that sometimes, she desires things that are bad for her; hence her nightmare about grabbing razor blades and poison. And yet Rose is powerless to change who she is.

The passage is important because it foreshadows the events of the rest of the novel. Rose will soon be seduced by her own wealth and power, to the point where she’ll be “chained” to her own farmland, even though she knows that it’s bad for her soul. (Also notice the subtle foreshadowing: Rose mentions a “poisoned jar’ much like the one Ginny will later use in an attempt to kill her.)

Book 2, Chapter 12 Quotes

It was a pantry cabinet, a sink, four base cabinets, and two wall cabinets, as well as eight fee of baby blue laminated countertop, … which my father had bought for a thousand dollars.

Related Characters: Ginny Cook Smith (speaker), Laurence Cook
Page Number: 80
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Rose and Ginny have accepted their father’s generosity and taken control over his property. And yet they’re still responsible for taking care of their father—giving him food and shelter, and providing for him financially. Larry maintains some control over his own assets, as well—he still has money to spend. Here, Ginny notices that Larry has made a series of extravagant purchases, including cabinets and countertop. As before, Larry is just trying to compete with his neighbor, Harold Clark.

The difference between now and then, as Ginny seems to sense, is that Ginny and Rose don’t want to lose their own money. When he buys cabinets and other things, Larry is taking money from his children—and while Ginny never says so explicitly, Smiley makes it clear that she doesn’t like Larry doing so. Ginny is less overtly acquisitive than Rose, but she still wants land and money for herself. Notice the way she spells out the cost of Larry’s new stuff—that’s one thousand dollars that won’t be going to her. The passage’s subtle displays of Ginnys materialism and acquisitiveness foreshadow her more overt greed later on in the novel.

“He is crazy,” said Rose. Anyway, Ginny, you’re running out of money

and you have all the expensive rentals left before you get to Go.”

Related Characters: Rose Cook Lewis (speaker), Ginny Cook Smith
Related Symbols: Monopoly
Page Number: 82
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Smiley uses the symbol of Monopoly to signal her characters’ latent greed and selfishness. The characters are playing a friendly game of Monopoly, but they’re also talking about Larry, who continues to spend money on elaborate house purchases, like cabinets and countertops. Rose moves the discussion from Larry to Monopoly, but because of the syntax of the paragraph, we think that she’s talking about real life when she says, “You’re running out of money.”

Smiley’s point is that, even if they won’t say so explicitly, Rose and Ginny are afraid that Larry is going to spend all their money before he dies. Now that Rose and Ginny are in power, they don’t like the idea of their father wasting his (and their) cash on things he doesn’t need. Smiley never comes right out and says that Rose and Ginny are greedy for land and cash—one has to read between the lines to see that they are, and this passage is a great example of how Smiley uses subtle hints (and the façade of a game) to alert readers to the truth.

Book 2, Chapter 14 Quotes

Now that I remembered that little girl and that young, running man, I couldn’t imagine what had happened to them.

Related Characters: Ginny Cook Smith (speaker), Laurence Cook
Page Number: 106
Explanation and Analysis:

In this chapter, Ginny remembers her father at his most heroic: saving Harold Clark, his rival, from underneath a truck. The memory is vivid, and because Ginny remembers her father’s heroism so clearly, she’s moved to tears. As a child, Ginny (apparently) hero-worshipped her father, and thought of him as a larger-than-life figure. Now that Ginny and Larry are older, Ginny thinks of her father as a pathetic old man—still intimidating, but hardly the hero he used to be in her eyes.

In the near future, Ginny will begin to question everything she knows and believes about Larry. So here, it’s possible that Ginny is lying to herself—i.e., she never really thought of her father as a hero, and is just idealizing her own memories. Ginny seems to feel guilty about her role in Larry’s mental decline; she’s guilty about accepting his money and property without a second thought. Moreover, Ginny is nostalgic for a time in her life when she and the rest of her family got along perfectly. The days of idyllic childhood are long behind her: in their place are confusion, rivalry, and resentment. No wonder she’s crying as she remembers.

Book 2, Chapter 15 Quotes

“Now that I’m back, after all those years away, I’m really amazed at how good Harold is at manipulating the way people think of him.”

Related Characters: Jess Clark (speaker), Harold Clark
Page Number: 108
Explanation and Analysis:

Jess Clark, returned to the country after many years, notices that his father, Harold Clark has cultivated a certain image of himself: Harold presents himself as a bumbling older man, a little eccentric, and not to be taken totally seriously. As Jess points out, however, Harold is a lot shrewder than he lets on: in reality, he’s hard working, quick-witted, and insightful. Harold just pretends to be an old eccentric because he knows that such a persona is a good way to convince people to leave him alone. Harold knows that it’s hard to find privacy in a small community—and he does this by pretending to be weirder than he really is.

It’s also important to notice that it’s Jess who sees through Harold—this is probably for two reasons. First, and most obviously, Jess is Harold’s son; Jess has seen Harold when he’s not in public, and knows more about what kind of man his father really is. Second, and more interestingly, Jess might be a fellow manipulator. Smiley never gives us much of an idea what Jess is “really” like (our impressions of him are nearly always filtered through Ginny’s adoring eyes), but she leaves open the likely possibility that he’s a shrewd, manipulative, and devious person, just like his dad.

Book 2, Chapter 16 Quotes

After you’ve confided long enough in someone, he or she assumes the antagonism you might have just been trying out. It was better for now to keep this conversation to myself.

Related Characters: Ginny Cook Smith (speaker), Rose Cook Lewis
Page Number: 119
Explanation and Analysis:

In this strange passage, Ginny has just had a long, angry conversation with her sister, Caroline, in which Caroline accuses Ginny or dong a bad job of taking care of her father. Caroline suggests that Ginny and Rose are ungrateful children; in spite of everything their father has done for them, they treat him like an annoyance, to be tended to from time to time without any affection or compassion. Although Ginny denies that Caroline has a point, she declines to tell Rose about the conversation. Her stated reason for doing so is fascinating: essentially, she says that when somebody accuses you of being evil, you’ll eventually become evil. This fits with the novel’s complicated ideas about appearances and reality: sometimes appearances are a mask or diversion from reality, but sometimes one’s reality actually shifts to fit appearances.

The passage is especially ambiguous because it’s not clear if Ginny really is innocent of any maliciousness toward her father, or if, deep down, she senses that Caroline is right. If the former possibility is the case, the quote might suggest that Ginny and Rose aren’t really “villainous” at all at this point; they’re driven to mistreat their father because their father hates them and thinks of them as “whores.” If the latter possibility is true, then Ginny refuses to tell Rose about the conversation because she senses that Caroline is telling the truth.

Book 3, Chapter 19 Quotes

She wore a cast for eight weeks, and she made a sleeve for it with the words PETE DID THIS, glued on it in felt letters.

Related Characters: Ginny Cook Smith (speaker), Rose Cook Lewis , Pete Lewis
Page Number: 141
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, we learn that Pete Lewis beat his wife, Rose, until he eventually he broke her arm. Rose was so furious about Pete’s actions that when she wore a cast, she wrote, “Pete did this” on it. The cast acted as a reminder to everybody in the community that Pete wasn’t the good, easygoing man he pretended to be: Rose refused to give Pete the luxury of hiding from his crimes.

As we’ll eventually learn, though, Rose’s actions have a deeper meaning. Rose advertises Pete’s abuse because she refuses to let someone else get away with mistreating her, after Larry. Larry raped Rose repeatedly when she was a teenager, and Rose has been living with the trauma for decades. She refuses to let anyone take advantage of her ever again—hence the sleeve on the cast. Rose’s willingness to publicize Pete’s abusiveness contrasts with her reluctance to tell anyone about her father’s actions. In part, the difference is that, in the case of Larry’s abuse, there is no “this”—in other words, there is no physical mark that Rose can point to as a sign of her father’s cruelty. (See quotes from Chapter 24 for more on Rose’s reaction to Larry’s abuse.)

Book 3, Chapter 20 Quotes

It was exhilarating, talking to my father as if he were my child, more than exhilarating to see him as my child.

Related Characters: Ginny Cook Smith (speaker), Laurence Cook
Page Number: 148
Explanation and Analysis:

This passage is another sign that Ginny isn’t quite as virtuous as she often believes herself to be. After Larry drinks and drives, he winds up in the hospital. As Ginny drives Larry home, she gets a little thrill from asserting so much power over her own father, of whom she was frightened for many years. Now that Larry is old and growing senile, Rose and Ginny have become the powerful people in the Cook family: Larry is practically their child (they have to support him and provide for him in almost every material way).

Ginny, while she thinks of herself as a good, responsible caretaker, is actually more vengeful and assertive than she lets on. She doesn’t take care of Larry just out of the goodness of her heart; she takes care of Larry partly because she likes feeling powerful. Rose and Ginny assert their power over their father in two ways: Rose does so by bullying him, while Ginny does so more subtly, by babying him.

Book 3, Chapter 23 Quotes

I flattered you when I called you a bitch! What do you want to reduce me to? I’ll stop this building! I’ll get the land back! I’ll throw you whores off this place. You’ll learn what it means to treat your father like this. I curse you!

Related Characters: Laurence Cook (speaker), Ginny Cook Smith , Rose Cook Lewis
Page Number: 183
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, a direct homage to King Lear, Larry Cook accosts his two eldest daughters in the middle of a wild storm. Larry is furious that his daughters have mistreated him and disrespected him. It’s hard to say exactly what Larry’s children have done to offend him, however; they take care of him and invite him to spend more time with them. And yet, by Ginny’s own admission, the Cook daughters have also taken some pleasure in belittling their father—treating him like a child—and perhaps Larry is reacting to his children’s barely-concealed (and, in light of his abuse and rape, justified) contempt. Moreover, Larry is angry with himself for rejecting Caroline, and he takes out his frustration on Rose and Ginny.

As a result, Larry yells at Rose and Ginny, accusing them of being bad daughters and bad people. He even claims that he should never have given up his land, and that he’s going to try to get it back. The passage reiterates what an important part of Larry’s identity his land was: now that Larry has signed away his property, he’s “naked,” stripped of his identity and power. (Notice also that Larry calls his daughters “bitches” and “whores,” both exposing his deep sexism and foreshadowing the events of the next few chapters.)

Book 3, Chapter 24 Quotes

“He didn’t rape me, Ginny. He seduced me. He said it was okay, that it was good to please me, that he needed it, that I was special. He said he loved me.”
I said, “I can’t listen to this.”

Related Characters: Ginny Cook Smith (speaker), Rose Cook Lewis (speaker), Laurence Cook
Page Number: 190
Explanation and Analysis:

In this horrifying passage, Rose confesses that Larry had sex with her when she was only a teenager. Curiously, Rose refuses to admit that Larry raped her—even thought it’s pretty clear that, for all intents and purposes, he did. The way Rose puts it, she was “seduced” by Larry—suggesting that, on some level, she feels responsible for her own father’s incestuous crimes (“raped” would suggest that Rose had no control in the matter; “seduced” would suggest that on some level she chose to have sex with Larry).

The passage is a good example of the irrational guilt that survivors of rape and incest often feel: they believe that they themselves are responsible for their own abuse. Rose’s explanation is not logical; she was a child, and can hardly be blamed for not fighting back against her intimidating, frightening father. But her guilt explains why she’s wrestled with her traumatic memories for so long. Also notice that Ginny refuses to listen to the truth about her father; she’s in denial about Rose’s mistreatment because she’s also in denial of her own.

“He won’t get away with it, Ginny. I won’t let him get away with it. I just won’t.”

Related Characters: Rose Cook Lewis (speaker), Ginny Cook Smith , Laurence Cook
Page Number: 192
Explanation and Analysis:

One question hangs over the second half of the novel: why doesn’t Rose go to the police or make Larry’s crimes public? Why can’t she just tell the authorities and townspeople that her father is a criminal, an incestuous rapist? What we gather, based on this chapter, is that Rose feels partly responsible for her own rape—an irrational, but all-too common response among traumatized rape victims. Furthermore, there’s no indication that anybody would believe Rose if she said that Larry raped her years ago (as is often the case in situations like this, unfortunately). Finally, as the quote suggests, Rose would never be satisfied with merely a legal punishment for her father: she wants to destroy her father completely, expunging her own sense of guilt in the process.

The only way for Rose to totally destroy her father, Smiley implies, is to control everything he owns, including the farm. Rose’s plan is to humiliate her father until the day he dies: reshaping his farmland into a hog farm, and never showing compassion or love of any kind for him. By asserting her ownership of the farmland, Rose hopes to purge all memory of Larry from her surroundings, and therefore from her own mind. The problem, however, is that such an obsession with revenge usually leads to more pain and corruption for the person seeking vengeance than punishment for the original offender.

Book 3, Chapter 28 Quotes

It was incredible to hear Rose speak like this, but it was intoxicating, too, as sweet and forbidden as anything I had ever done.

Related Characters: Ginny Cook Smith (speaker), Rose Cook Lewis
Page Number: 216
Explanation and Analysis:

As the novel goes on, Rose and Ginny become more overtly villainous, confirming, perhaps, Ginny’s observation that she has a habit of taking on the antagonism people attribute to her. At the church potluck, Rose confides to Ginny that she wants to humiliate Larry—show him how far he’s fallen from his former glory and prestige. Ginny, who’s always thought of herself as a kind, loyal daughter, is a little shocked by Rose’s cruelty. But as she says here, she’s also “intoxicated,” knowing that Larry deserves whatever humiliation and punishment he might receive because of his past crimes, and relishing the shift in the family’s power dynamic.

The passage, at the simplest level, is about evil and how evil perpetuates itself. Ginny might not be an “evil” person, but she finds herself seduced by evil in trying to punish her father’s evil. While Regan and Goneril, the counterparts to Rose and Ginny in King Lear, are presented as more overtly and unambiguously villainous, Smiley wants to treat Rose and Ginny’s seemingly “wicked” actions with more nuance, particularly by identifying their source (Larry’s past abuse). Rose and Ginny both commit some horrible crimes of their own during the novel, but at the same time, they are the victims of their monstrous father; they’re trying to escape the traumatic past, but are trapped in a cycle of suffering and vengeance.

Since then I’ve often thought we could have taken our own advice, driven to the Twin Cities and found jobs as waitresses, measured out our days together in a garden apartment, the girls in one bedroom, Rose and I in the other, anonymous, ducking forever a destiny that we never asked for, that was our father’s gift to us.

Related Characters: Ginny Cook Smith (speaker), Rose Cook Lewis , Laurence Cook , Pamela , Linda
Page Number: 220
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Ginny expresses her desire to escape from the farmland where she’s spent most of her life and go to the Twin Cities (Minneapolis and Saint Paul). Ginny recognizes that she’ll never be entirely happy on the farm: there are too many bad memories. The farmland itself is a symbol of her family and her family’s legacy (the tiles themselves were laid by Larry’s ancestors), so Ginny can’t live on the farm and also forget about Larry and Larry’s crimes. As long as she accepts his property, she has to accept his influence and her memories of him. The alternative to accepting Larry’s influence is to “escape” the influence of Larry’s property by moving to a city. This is why the thousand acres is both a blessing and a curse to the Cook daughters.

But even if working as a waitress in the city would be a welcome release from Larry’s overbearing, intimidating presence, Ginny isn’t strong enough to leave (yet). She wants her father’s land and money, and she feels a legitimate family connection to the land. (She also feels she deserves it, and wants to get back at Larry by taking his power and wealth.) Like Rose in her nightmares, Ginny feels drawn to the things that slowly kill her.

Book 5, Chapter 36 Quotes

I was so remarkably comfortable with the discipline of making a good appearance!

Related Characters: Ginny Cook Smith (speaker)
Page Number: 285
Explanation and Analysis:

After Larry announces his intentions to sue Ginny and Rose and get his former property back, Ginny and Rose consult a lawyer in the city. The lawyer, Jean Cartier, advises Ginny and Rose to be perfect—to do a great job tending their father’s property, and keep up an appearance of being successful farmers. Larry can only sue Ginny and Rose according to a clause of their contract that allows him to repossess his land if his daughters treat it badly. So as long as Ginny and Rose treat the farmland well, they’ll be fine—it doesn’t really matter how they treat Larry himself.

Ginny finds that she’s very good at putting on the appearance of competence, normality, and graciousness. In a way, Ginny has been practicing for such a role for most of her life—as the resident of a small town where everybody knows everybody else, she knows how to “seem” one way and secretly “be” another.

Book 5, Chapter 39 Quotes

One of the jars of sausage was close to the edge of the table. I pushed it back and looked at Jess again. For the first time in weeks what was unbearable felt bearable.

Related Characters: Ginny Cook Smith (speaker), Jess Clark
Related Symbols: The Jar of Sausages
Page Number: 314
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Ginny has fixed a jar of poisoned sausages, designed to kill her sister, Rose. Rose has offended Ginny by sleeping with Jess Clark, Ginny’s former lover. Ginny had thought of Jess as a symbol of escape and freedom from Larry, and had seemingly truly fallen in love with him. Now, instead of hating Jess for his manipulation and deception, Ginny takes out her sense of betrayal by hating her sister, and even going so far as to try and kill her. (Whether this plot twist is plausible or not is arguable, but it does echo the events of King Lear, where Goneril poisons Regan.) Ginny makes sausages in particular because she knows that Jess is a vegetarian; Rose is the only person in the house who’s going to die.

Interestingly, Ginny feels eerily calm as she delivers the tool of her sister’s murder. When she presents it before Jess, she finds it easy to smile back at him, even though she’s been uneasy around him ever since hearing that he and Rose slept together. It’s interesting to compare the passage to Jess’s earlier description of how Harold Clark enjoys pretending to be eccentric in order to conceal his true nature: similarly, Ginny takes genuine pleasure in hiding her true feelings. At this point, she really is acting more overtly “villainous” (like her counterpart in Lear)—she’s no longer trying to escape from or punish an abusive father, but has now been corrupted by revenge and greed to the point that she turns a murderous hatred against her sister.

Book 5, Chapter 40 Quotes

I continued to behave as if I was living in the sight of all our neighbors, as Mr. Cartier had told us to. I waited for Rose to die, but the weather was warm for sauerkraut and liver sausage—that was a winter dish.

Related Characters: Ginny Cook Smith (speaker), Rose Cook Lewis , Jean Cartier
Related Symbols: The Jar of Sausages
Page Number: 316
Explanation and Analysis:

The strength, but also the weakness, of Ginny’s murder plot is that it’s slow-acting and relies heavily on chance. As a result, it’s less likely that Ginny will be linked to the murder—but until Rose dies, Ginny has to twiddle her thumbs and wait. Moreover, until that time, Ginny can’t focus on anything but the murder. There’s a constant cloud of vengeance hanging over her—her life is “stalled” until the day that Rose dies.

Ginny’s murder plot is intended to free Ginny from her anxieties about life on the farmland: by killing Rose, she can (she assumes) run off with Jess and escape Larry forever. But because the sausages don’t kill Rose right away, Ginny can’t live normally; she’s always looking over her shoulder and putting on appearances of normality (as her lawyer told her to, mentioned here). As we’ll see soon enough, Ginny will spend the next decade and more with the burden of Rose’s potential murder.

One thing was surely true about going to court. It had marvelous divided us from each other and from our old lives. There could be no reconciliation now.

Related Characters: Ginny Cook Smith (speaker)
Page Number: 326
Explanation and Analysis:

Ginny seems to be seeing the truth more and more clearly. She was seduced by the promise of power, as represented by Larry’s land. But now that she’s won a victory against her father in court (determining that she and Rose really are the owners of the farmland), she can’t savor her victory. Instead, Ginny sees clearly how the farmland has torn the family apart: she and Larry will never reconcile after their disagreements in court, and Caroline has seemingly turned against her sisters to side with Larry, meaning that the family will always be fractured.

Rose has said that she accepted Larry’s property as a form of revenge—her intention was to humiliate her aging father. In other words, her goal was to tear the family apart (at least in the sense of destroying Larry—Caroline didn’t seem to factor into it). Here, Ginny recognizes, Rose has gotten her wish—the Cook clan is in ruins—but in enacting their revenge on Larry, Rose and Ginny have hurt themselves too, not just their father. Ginny has sought revenge against Rose for sleeping with Jess, and it seems unlikely that they’ll ever be close again.

Book 5, Chapter 41 Quotes

Ty yelled, “I gave my life to this place!”
Without looking around at him, I yelled back, “Now it’s yours!”

Related Characters: Tyler “Ty” Smith (speaker), Ginny Cook Smith
Page Number: 330
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Ginny makes the choice to turn her back on her husband and her own farmland. She’s won a victory in court by defeating her father, and yet it seems to bring her little pleasure. Instead, her court victory seems to remind her how toxic her farmland really is: it’s corrupting her soul. Instead of staying around to run the farm, Ginny gives it up to her husband in the middle of a fight, and impulsively leaves for the city (to become a waitress, just as she and Rose had vaguely planned).

The irony of the passage is that Ginny is finally escaping from her old life in the country—but too late. Ginny and Rose had talked about getting away from their father and starting fresh, but their greed and guilt kept them around. Now, Ginny has finally summoned the courage to move away from her childhood home—but only after she’s plotted to murder her sister and is cutting ties with her husband. Ginny can’t truly escape her past, because the possibility that Rose will “drop dead” will always be hanging over her head.

Book 6, Chapter 45 Quotes

“Look at Daddy! He knew he’d treated me unfairly, but that we really felt love for each other. He made amends. We got really close at the end.”

“How did he mistreat you?”
“Well, by getting mad and cutting me out of the farm.”

Related Characters: Ginny Cook Smith (speaker), Caroline Cook (speaker), Laurence Cook
Page Number: 362-363
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Ginny comes ever so close to telling Caroline the truth about their father. Caroline claims that she found the strength to forgive Larry for how he “mistreated” her—but she seemingly has no idea that her father was an incestuous rapist, and thinks that his “mistreatment” was merely cutting her out of inheriting the farm. At this point, Ginny seems poised to tell Caroline the truth about Larry. But she never does.

The passage is full of ambiguities: Caroline ended up having the best relationship with Larry (she even helped him sue Rose and Ginny), but only because she had the shallowest understanding of who he really was. Smiley leaves open the possibility that Caroline was also raped by Larry (neither Ginny nor Rose knows to a certainty whether or not she was, though they tried to protect her from being abused) and repressed it, or even forgave him. Because Caroline and Ginny never open up to one another, we never know the truth. Smiley suggests that Caroline’s supposed “goodness” might be nothing more than ignorance of her father’s horrific crimes. (It’s also worth noting that Caroline calls Larry “Daddy” here, something she refused to do at the beginning of the book.)

I had a burden lift off me that I hadn’t even felt the heaviness of until then, and it was the burden of having to wait and see what was going to happen…

Related Characters: Ginny Cook Smith (speaker)
Page Number: 367
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Ginny gets rid of the poisoned sausages that she’s just rediscovered in Rose’s basement. Years before, Ginny cooked the sausages with hemlock, in an attempt to murder her sister as punishment for sleeping with Jess, her lover. Ginny has spent the last decade with the burden of her sister’s impending death hanging over her. Now, she’s gotten rid of that burden by throwing the sausages away.

The irony of the passage, of course, is that Ginny relieves herself of guilt and responsibility too late. If she’d thrown away the sausages years ago, before she ran away from her old home, she possibly could have preserved her relationship with Rose. As it stands, Ginny loses her property, her husband, and her sisters because she has a bad habit of doing the right thing too late.

Epilogue Quotes

I can’t say that I forgive my father, but now I can imagine what he probably chose never to remember—the goad of an unthinkable urge, pricking him, pressing him wrapping him in an impenetrable fog of self that must have seemed, when he wandered around the house late at night after working and drinking, like the very darkness. This is the gleaming obsidian shaft I safeguard above all the others.

Related Characters: Ginny Cook Smith (speaker), Laurence Cook
Page Number: 371
Explanation and Analysis:

As the novel comes to an end, Ginny finds herself in a dark place. One of her sisters is dead; the other one barely talks to her. Her parents are dead, and her property is gone—indeed, almost all memories of the Cooks’ former glory are gone (except, in a brutal irony, the community’s memory of Larry as a kind of “saint”). As Ginny contemplates her life, she thinks back to her father, the man who raped her, setting in motion the cycle of guilt, regret, and revenge that has made her adult life so hard.

Ginny’s recollections of her father are important for a number of reasons. First, it would seem that, understandably, Ginny is no less traumatized by her father’s actions than she was years before: she’s tried to enact revenge on him, but she’s ended up destroying her own life in the process. Larry’s incest continues to darken her life—it’s “lodged” in her mind, impossible to remove. Second, the passage suggests a sinister connection between Larry and Ginny. After so many years of greed, domination, and revenge, Ginny s no longer a good, virtuous person; one could even argue that she’s become a lot like her father in some ways. Notice how easily Ginny puts herself in her father’s place—disturbingly, she claims to understand the motives that led Larry to rape her; the innate darkness and sinful urges that can impel a human being to do evil (the same sinful urges that impelled Ginny to try to murder her own sister). If there’s a theme to this passage (and maybe to the book as a whole), it’s that evil begets more evil. Here, Smiley implies that Larry’s horrible, incestuous crimes have both permanently scarred Ginny and pushed her to become a dark, jealous, and in some senses, evil person.

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