Synopses & Reviews
Over the course of a thirty-year career, Jean Thompson has been celebrated by critics as "a writer of extraordinary intelligence and sensitivity" (O, The Oprah Magazine
), "an American Alice Munro" (The Wall Street Journal
), and "one of our most lucid and insightful writers" (San Francisco Chronicle
). Her peers have been no less vocal, from Jennifer Egan ("bracing...boldly unconventional") to David Sedaris ("if there are 'Jean Thompson characters,' they're us, and never have we been as articulate and worthy of compassion").
Now, 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.
"Bookended by two wars Vietnam and Iraq Thompson's third novel (after the collection Do Not Deny Me) sketches the travails of an Iowa family over three decades. Matriarch Audrey neatly sums up the episodic novel's grand theme: 'she'd been born into one world, hopeful and normal, and now she lived in another, full of sadness and failure.' The novel opens as oldest daughter Anita, the beauty of the family, celebrates her marriage. Over the years, however, Anita confronts dissatisfaction with herself and disillusionment with her pompous husband. Her younger brother, Ryan, a high school senior as the novel opens, longs to escape his rural roots, dating a hippie poet and majoring in political science before realizing that the farmers who came before him might hold more relevance than he'd imagined. Cousin Chip comes back from Vietnam troubled and aimless, his wanderings from Seattle to Reno, Nev., to Veracruz, Mexico, offering a parallel to the spiritual restlessness all the other characters feel. Told from the point of view of more than a half-dozen characters, the vignettes that make up the narrative are generally powerful in isolation, but as a whole fail to develop into anything more than a series of snapshots of a family touched by time and tragedy. (May)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright PWyxz LLC)
"Dazzling...Unforgettable...A masterful wide-angle portrait of an Iowa family over three decades....Thompson's ability to put these characters empathically on the page, in their special setting, over an extended period of years, with just the right dose of dark humor, rivals Richard Russo's....The novel is a powerful reflection on middle American life — on the changes wrought by the passing years and the values that endure." Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)
“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
“Few fiction writers working today have more successfully rendered the sensation of solid ground suddenly melting away, pinpointing that instant when the familiar present is swallowed up by an always encroaching past or voided future.” The New York Times Book Review
“Precisely the kind of beautifully crafted, intelligent, imaginative writing that serious readers crave....Each sentence deserves to be appreciated.” USA Today
“One of our most astute diagnosticians of contemporary experience, conflict, unhappiness, and regret.” The Boston Globe
The Year We Left Home chronicles the lives the Erickson family as they come of age in 1970s and '80s America.