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A Thousand Acres | Quotes


See? The wisdom of the plains. Pretend nothing happened.

Jess Clark, Book 1, Chapter 4

At the pig roast Harold Clark throws to welcome his son Jess home after 13 years in Canada as a draft dodger, Larry Cook announces he is incorporating his farm and giving control of it to his three daughters. He storms off and disinherits his daughter Caroline, a lawyer, after she expresses reservations. Ginny is panicking over the family rupture, but Jess dishes out a mashup of personal philosophy, Buddhist teachings, and Midwestern pragmatism. He advises her to wait.


Your own endurance might be a pleasant fiction allowed you by others who've really faced the facts.

Ginny Cook Smith, Book 2, Chapter 13

Ginny takes her nieces to the county swimming pool where Mary Livingstone wonders whether the two young girls know about their mother Rose's cancer. Mary says farm kids always need to face facts, which leads Ginny to ponder how many facts she has actually confronted. This line foreshadows the devastating revelation Ginny will hear from her sister Rose later in the novel. Although neither Ginny nor readers realize it yet, Ginny is indeed living in a "pleasant fiction" that is maintained because her sister Rose has chosen to confront a reality Ginny has completely suppressed.


You could handle him better ... You ought to let a lot of things slide.

Ty Smith, Book 2, Chapter 14

The family's annual church Father's Day dinner is tense. Larry disagrees with everyone and glares at Rose when she challenges him about driving all over the county, even to sister Caroline's law office in Des Moines. As they are getting ready for bed that night, Ty tells his wife, Ginny, she and Rose are getting too upset about Larry's behavior. It is better to maintain peace by going along with what he says and does.


My job remained what it had always been—to give him what he asked of me.

Ginny Cook Smith, Book 2, Chapter 16

Although Ginny is beginning to chafe at the demands her father has always placed on her, she dutifully goes to his house as always to cook him breakfast. When Larry gets angry at her for not remembering to buy eggs for his meal, she momentarily considers defying him by saying he can make do with bacon. Almost instantly, however, she capitulates to his wishes and runs back to her own home to get some eggs. She can stand up to him only in her thoughts, not face-to-face.


Daddy's lost everything, he's acting crazy, and you all don't care enough to do anything about it!

Caroline Cook, Book 2, Chapter 16

Ginny calls Caroline to discuss their father, expecting her sister to share her frustration and concern over Larry's drinking and strange new behavior. But to Ginny's surprise, Caroline is angry with her and Rose for not doing more to take care of him.


You're such a good daughter, so slow to judge, it's like stupidity. It drives me crazy.

Rose Cook Lewis, Book 3, Chapter 20

While driving drunk, Larry wrecks his truck and ends up in the hospital. The next morning Rose tells Ginny the police ought to have put him in jail instead. When Ginny objects this would have been too harsh a penalty, since nobody else was hurt, Rose is exasperated. In her mind Ginny is once again trying to make excuses for their father rather than condemning him for his faults.


You think because I gave you girls the farm, you don't have to make up to me anymore.

Larry Cook, Book 3, Chapter 21

Although the novel revolves around Larry and the king-like power he wields over his daughters, sons-in-law, and even his neighbors, he has relatively little dialogue. Ginny, Rose, and the other characters talk and think about him constantly, trying to figure out first why he gave them the farm and then why he acts so angry at them for accepting it. Here Larry finally speaks for himself and makes it clear he is upset at the shift in the balance of power. In his view his daughters are not showing him the respect he deserves.


We were just his, to do with as he pleased, like the pond ... or the hogs.

Rose Cook Lewis, Book 3, Chapter 24

The night their father drives off into the thunderstorm, Rose and Ginny suggest several explanations for his erratic bursts of rage. Rose says he has always been like this. She then reveals after their mother died, he had sex with both of them. Ginny vehemently denies it, giving the lame explanation even if he did think about it, he would have changed his mind because Rose was prettier. Rose says appearance has nothing to do with sexual abuse; it's about power and a spurious sense of ownership.


What he's done before is still with us ... until there's true remorse.

Rose Cook Lewis, Book 3, Chapter 28

Larry refuses to return after the thunderstorm, and is living at his friend Harold Clark's neighboring farm. Nevertheless, everyone shows up at the annual Fourth of July potluck at the Lutheran church. There, Larry pointedly ignores his daughters and keeps muttering angrily about people who put their parents in nursing homes. Rose thinks her father is feigning insanity in order to avoid responsibility for his actions, including the sexual abuse.


Threw a man off his own farm, on a night when you'd let a rabid dog into the barn.

Harold Clark, Book 3, Chapter 28

Harold sends Jess over to Larry and his family at the church potluck supper. He has a plan for the Cook and Clark families to sit together. As they begin eating, Harold looks around and announces his disgust at how they are all eating heartily. Although they are pretending nothing is wrong to avoid a confrontation at church, Harold is outraged at what he sees as their hypocrisy. Although Larry drove into the storm of his own accord, Harold accuses the Cook daughters and sons-in-law of forcing Larry off his own land in dangerous weather.


As long as he acts crazy, then he gets off scot-free.

Rose Cook Lewis, Book 4, Chapter 30

A few days after the disastrous church supper, Harold Clark is blinded for life in a painful chemical accident. Ginny is shaken, but Rose says she doesn't care if men like Harold and her father suffer because neither one has ever shown remorse for the harm they have caused others. Rose believes Harold is evading responsibility by hiding behind his injury, and her father is doing the same thing by hiding behind a pretense of insanity.


Their opinions automatically took on the appearance of reality. It was a small world they lived in.

Ginny Cook Smith, Book 4, Chapter 34

Henry Dodge comes by and asks Ginny to make peace with her father, as if she is the one who has wronged him. While they're talking, with Ginny keeping her thoughts mostly to herself, Ty enters the kitchen. The two of them are just alike, she thinks: "It was a small world they lived in, really, small, complete and forever curling back to itself." And then she considers how far away that world looked to her.


You think a teenaged hooker costs fifty bucks a night? There's ten thousand bucks.

Rose Cook Lewis, Book 5, Chapter 38

Fed up with life on the farm, with living with Pete, and with Larry always a presence, Rose had considered leaving it all. She now considers Pete's suicide a favor to her; now she and her lover Jess can stay on the farm. And she doesn't feel any sympathy for her father who feels he was shoved off his own farm. "I feel like I've paid for it," she says of her share of the farm. She paid for it with the sex her father forced her to have with him when she was in high school. It was a huge price she paid, and now she wants her share of the farm in return.


You're going to tell me something terrible about Daddy ... You're going to wreck my childhood for me.

Caroline Cook, Book 6, Chapter 45

Caroline and Ginny meet at the house where they grew up. They are there to divide the contents before the farm is auctioned off to repay debt. Caroline angrily accuses Ginny of wanting to sabotage the memories Caroline has of her loving relationship with their father before he died. Motivated perhaps by pity, Ginny decides to respect Caroline's desire to remain ignorant and refrains from telling her about the incest.


I will have my regret paid off in fourteen years, and maybe by that time I will know what it is.

Ginny Cook Smith, Epilogue

Ginny calls her share of the tax she owes on the farm her "regret money." Paying them off will not only erase her financial obligation, it is also a symbolic way of erasing the burden of her painful past. But after so many years of burying her feelings about what her father did to her, Ginny still does not understand how she feels about him. This is made clear in a passage where she says she has not solved the "riddle" of "how we judge those who have hurt us when they have shown no remorse."

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