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Award-winning narrator Cassandra Campbell (who has lent her voice to everything from Kathryn Stockett's The Help to David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas) brings her warm, assuring style to Thompson's prose. Campbell's voice is reminiscent of actress Dana Delaney, while her narrating style is subtle and conversational. With a half-dozen characters to juggle, the easiest route might be to find different voices for each one, but Campbell smartly uses slight tonal shifts – a hint of gruffness for Chip and Ryan, for instance – rather than hit the listener over the head with caricatures. The consistency of Campbell's narration is strong from the first chapter to the last, even as the Erickson family unravels and reunites over the decades.
While much of the novel centers on Ryan's progression from hippie to teacher to computer software designer, it's war-addled Chip and wild-child Torrie who are the most finely drawn. Campbell hits her stride narrating Torrie's near-fatal car accident and emergence from brain-damaged teen to keen-eyed photographer. Campbell's stoner voice for Chip evolves into one of a man whose memories of Vietnam unfurl in cinematic bursts, but with vital missing frames. "Home's the place where, when you show up, they have to take you in," Chip says when he finally returns to Iowa, which over the course of the novel becomes a microcosm of the late 20th century American experience. Collin Kelley
In The Year We Left Home, Thompson brings together all of her talents to deliver the career-defining novel her admirers have been waiting for: a sweeping and emotionally powerful story of a single American family during the tumultuous final decades of the twentieth century. It begins in 1973 when the Erickson family of Grenada, Iowa, gathers for the wedding of their eldest daughter, Anita. Even as they celebrate, the fault lines in the family emerge. The bride wants nothing more than to raise a family in her hometown, while her brother Ryan watches restlessly from the sidelines, planning his escape. He is joined by their cousin Chip, an unpredictable, war-damaged loner who will show Ryan both the appeal and the perils of freedom. Torrie, the Ericksons’ youngest daughter, is another rebel intent on escape, but the choices she makes will bring about a tragedy that leaves the entire family changed forever.
Stretching from the early 1970s in the Iowa farmlands to suburban Chicago to the coast of contemporary Italy - and moving through the Vietnam War’s aftermath, the farm crisis, the numerous economic booms and busts - The Year We Left Home follows the Erickson siblings as they confront prosperity and heartbreak, setbacks and triumphs, and seek their place in a country whose only constant seems to be breathtaking change. Ambitious, richly told, and fiercely American, this is a vivid and moving meditation on our continual pursuit of happiness and an incisive exploration of the national character.
Jean Thompson is the author of Who Do You Love: Stories, a 1999 National Book Award finalist for fiction; City Boy; and Wide Blue Yonder, a New York Times Notable Book and Chicago Tribune Best Fiction selection for 2002. She lives in Urbana, Illinois.
Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By Susan D on 06-09-11
I LOVED IT!
As there is only one other review written for this book by someone who didn't like it, I'm giving this five stars because I DID love it and it deserves more readers. I suggest that those of you who enjoy emotionally intelligent, historically wise, politically aware and psychologically astute well-crafted fiction (I'm thinking Elizabeth Strout, Anne Tyler, Mary Gordon, Allegra Goodman, Ayelet Waldman, Adam Haslett, Jennifer Haigh, or Jennifer Vanderbas) will find this as moving as I did. All the positive reviews on Amazon and elsewhere captured my reactions: I cared about the family, these people, and the way it rendered the experiences of multiple members of an Iowa family who, like all of us, change over time ??? partly because of our own natures, partly because of accident, and partly because of where we fit into the cultural/political zeitgeist. This novel captures the effects of two wars, the destruction of old farming families, the tech boom, and the real estate boom on a number of characters. It's not heavy-handed in its politics, but it doesn't ignore politics either. I could have gone on listening, and felt sad when this novel came to an end. Cassandra Campbell's narration was perfect. Highly recommended!
8 of 8 people found this review helpful
By MAUREEN on 09-12-11
A wonderful read
Loved this book--great story--only part that did not 'make it' for me was the description of one character's trip to Italy--think the author could omit this part--narrator did a great job.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful