Literature Study GuidesA Thousand AcresBook 2 Chapters 11 13 Summary

A Thousand Acres | Study Guide

Jane Smiley

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A Thousand Acres | Book 2, Chapters 11–13 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 11

After their moment in the vegetable garden, Ginny hopes to see more of Jess. She watches for him on his daily runs. In a convoluted bit of what even she realizes is magical thinking, she believes Jess could teach her something existential that would give her the "right outlook" so she can get pregnant again.

Then Ty brings Jess home to supper one day after they've both been working on the old tractor. They spend a quiet but pleasant evening talking, all three of them happy to be in each other's company. Ty suggests Jess stay in Iowa to farm. Initially, Jess gives the same answer Caroline did when her father announced his incorporation plans: "I don't know." Then he says yes, he wants to farm organically but maybe he should get married first. Ginny feels awkward at that, but is happy overall at this new friend in both her and Ty's lives.

Chapter 12

Jess shows up again the next night, and then Rose calls and the five of them—Ginny, Ty, and Pete included—begin a two-week marathon Monopoly game, what they call the Million Dollar World Series. They play every night, even when tired from a day's work. In the process Pete opens up and tells stories about his adventures hitchhiking after high school. Ginny realizes with some surprise her brother-in-law is fun.

The next day the lumberyard drops off new kitchen cabinets costing a thousand dollars in Larry's yard. Ty and Pete offer to move them into the house but Larry rebuffs them, saying, "Quit telling me what do." He lets the cabinets get ruined when they sit overnight in the rain. Rose and Pete are furious. She says Larry has bought a new couch, too, and is driving somewhere all day without telling anyone where. Ty tries to calm them down but Rose says he's crazy, or maybe he has Alzheimer's disease. But everyone agrees that can't be it because Larry has an excellent memory: especially for things he thinks they have done wrong. Still, Ginny and Rose insist Larry is out of control.

Chapter 13

The next day is hot and Ginny takes her nieces Linda and Pammy to the county pool, where they run into Mary Livingstone. She is the wife of a recently retired farmer who just sold their operation on the advice of Marv Carson for a million dollars. Mary first asks about Larry, then about Rose's cancer. She does this in earshot of Rose's young daughter Pammy, who visibly winces and moves away. Noticing, Mary asks whether Rose has told her daughters everything about her prognosis, saying she believes farm kids should be taught to face facts.

Then Mary recalls Ginny's dying mother had made Mary promise to help her daughters after her death. "She was afraid for you. For the life you would live after she died," Mary says. She goes on to say Ginny's mother knew what kind of man her husband was and she wanted more for her daughters. "There was another thing, too—" Mary begins, but she doesn't finish.

Although Ginny is disconcerted, she says things turned out so her mom got her wish. Mary isn't so sure, recalling Ginny's mother worried aloud, "Ginny won't stand up to him." Her nieces return and interrupt the conversation. The only clue Ginny gives Mary's words have upset her is this line: "I realized that I was almost panting."

Ginny decides her mother was always emotionally distant and so Ginny never really knew her. She concocts a short-lived scheme to try and track down her mother's brother to learn more, but ends up leaving the pool feeling "shocked and dull."

Analysis

Smiley plants numerous clues in these chapters about a revelation later in the book. When Rose is ranting about her father's irrational behavior, her daughter Pammy wanders into the room and says, "Mom won't let us go over there. And she told us not to open the door if he comes over when she isn't there." Although Ginny calmly and without any hint of trepidation says that seems unnecessary to her, readers are left to wonder why Rose would want to protect her daughters from their own grandfather.

The conversation with Mary Livingstone at the county pool is so littered with clues you almost trip over them, both in what Mary says and in Ginny's reaction to them. For example, when Mary says she believes farm kids need to face facts, Ginny oddly wonders what facts she may have forgotten she needs to face. Although this line happens so quickly it is easy to overlook, it has major significance for the novel. It is a warning flag from Ginny's subconscious mind something ominous lurks there.

All the things Ginny's dying mother reportedly said to Mary add up to a deep sense of unease. Perhaps when her mother said she wanted a different life for Ginny and Rose she meant she wanted them to leave the farm and develop their full potential. Perhaps she simply meant at 14, on the cusp of womanhood, Ginny needed her mother and would be lonely, adrift, without her. But that doesn't go along with what Ginny later thinks about her mother being distant and unsentimental. It also doesn't address the comment her mother made about Ginny not standing up to her father. Why did her mother think that was important for Ginny's future?

The author raises many questions but gives no definitive answers, tantalizing readers with Mary's unfinished final remark, "There was another thing, too—"

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