A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley, published in 1992, is based on Shakespeare's King Lear, but the plot unfolds in a way that is so brilliant that you will think this contemporary version is even better than its predecessor! The story centers around the Cook Family, with patriarch Larry as the owner of the most successful farm in Iowa. He is close to retirement, but wants to expand the size of his farm before he hands it down to his three daughters, not all of whom agree with his decisions. Knowing the story of King Lear foreshadows a bit of the ending of Smiley's novel - but how we reach that point is very different - and involves much darker, more twisted consequences - and some incredible surprises.
It's quite a challenging, but rewarding, examination of family dynamics. Smiley begs of the reader to ask the tough questions that seemed so cut and dry in King Lear, such as - should we sympathize with these characters, or should we despise them? What is the bigger tragedy - to live a life of ignorance or to be fully aware of the hideous truth behind a seemingly heroic figure in your life?
Smiley took a risk by writing this book and dared herself to improve a masterful Shakespearean tragedy - not just a comedy about love and silly misunderstandings - but a tragedy that contains difficult themes like the breakdown of family relationships, loyalty, greed, betrayal, abuse of power, the list goes on and on....and in doing so, she created a story with characters that are more intense and faceted than the original while still remaining true to King Lear's core. The risk paid off with a Pulitzer Prize and worldwide acclaim.
Definitely instant classic material!