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Smiley, Jane

set horse manages age

(US 1951– )

After A Thousand Acres won the Pulitzer Prize in 1992 Smiley came rather belatedly to the attention of British readers. This inspired recasting of the King Lear story is set in the farmlands of Iowa, and adds an extra and very modern dimension to the tale, explaining why the Goneril and Regan characters feel as they do towards their father. It has recently been made into a film. Smiley writes brilliantly about rural life. She is a keen rider (she now owns horses herself), and she describes them and their world particularly well. In her early volume of short stories, The Age of Grief (1988), she deals with painful human relationships in a careful and sensitive way. At Paradise Gate (1981) is very perceptive about old age, and the novella Ordinary Love (1990) is a short and poignant masterpiece about family breakdown and heartache. The happiness of a mother, father, and small child living in an idyllic setting unravels before our very eyes. By contrast, in her campus novel Moo (1995), set in an agricultural college, Smiley manages to keep several narrative balls flying through the air with the skill of a juggler. The college, set in the Mid-West, is anxious to develop a perpetually-lactating cow. Smiley manages to see things from everyone's point of view. She gets into the minds of faculty, students, and even a prize pig, and the results are frequently hilarious. Her historical epic The All-True Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton (1998) gives a woman's perspective on American frontier sagas, and has been compared with Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn, while Horse Heaven (2000) gives us a stylish and thrilling look at two years in the world of horse-racing.

E. Annie Proulx, Carol Shields, Richard Ford  AG

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