From National Book Award–finalist Jean Thompson comes a mesmerizing, decades-spanning saga of one ordinary American family - proud, flawed, hopeful - whose story simultaneously captures the turbulent history of the country at large.
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.
Jean Thompson's The Year We Left Home is a melancholy love-letter to America told through the eyes of the dysfunctional Erickson clan, specifically the children: unhappily married Anita, rebellious teenager Torrie, and Ryan, who's desperate to escape the rural abyss of Grenada, Iowa. There's also cousin Chip, who roams around the world to forget the horrors of Vietnam. From 1973 to 2003, the flawed Ericksons navigate wars, changing political climates, the '80s farming crisis, personal tragedies, and disillusionment over the "American dream."
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
“Jean Thompson writes with both sensitivity and intelligence, from a place of deep compassion for her characters and the world in which they live.” (O, The Oprah Magazine)
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I LOVED IT!
- Susan D
A wonderful read