Barn Blind, Jane Smiley, Random House Inc, 1980, 218 pp
Reading Jane Smiley's first novel was a pleasure and a revelation. I've only previously read one of her books: Good Faith. I liked it a lot but didn't love it. I've read most of her book about writing, Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel, which is a bit dry in parts but from which I learned more about literature and derived inspiration as a writer. One summer I heard Jane Smiley speak at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books where she impressed me with her intelligence. Later I met her in the ladies' room where she impressed me with her height; she is at least as tall as Julia Child was.
So I've always had the idea that I would read more of her books, finally deciding to read them in the order in which she published them, which is my way of getting to know an author. Barn Blind is astoundingly good for a first novel. The characters are rich and deep. It is their interrelationships which drive the story: brothers and sister, kids to parents, mother to children and husband/father to wife and kids. With admirable economy she gets all these relationships into a little over 200 pages.
The mother is much more invested in her career as a horse woman (breeder, riding instructor and horse show presenter) than she is in her children. She uses her children to advance her career dreams and they are overpowered by her, causing varying degrees of trouble. From the opening chapter, you know that tragedy looms and the impending doom stuck me like glue to the book.
There is something about people and the connection with animals that makes for compelling stories. Charlotte's Web, Black Beauty, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, The Three Junes, The God of Animals, all came to mind as I read Barn Blind. I am excited to read more Jane Smiley. From interviews I can see that she lives by her own internal compass. That is my kind of woman and in the two books I have read so far, I have found a kindred spirit.
(Another out of print book. Wow, it is getting scary how many books are vanishing from stores. Anyway, it is available in paperback from libraries and used book sellers.)