…it's [the] sense of the familiar revivifiedof knowing what's coming yet being emotionally outflanked by it anywaythat best characterizes The Year We Left Home, an extraordinarily warmhearted novel whose impressive humanity and lightness of touch refresh some narrative elements so abundantly precedented that most fiction writers would have been afraid to go near them…with its episodic, home-centered structure, its stealthy gallop through time and its distribution of point-of-view duties among the increasingly estranged members of a nuclear family, [the novel] invites, and withstands, comparisons to Evan S. Connell's novels Mrs. Bridge and Mr. Bridge, two (or really one) of the great American fictions of the last century.
The New York Times
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)
Wise and absorbing, this is one not to miss.” —People
“An extraordinarily warm-hearted novel.” —Jonathan Dee, The New York Times Book Review
“The Year We Left Home plumbs the American heart with rigor and intensity, seamlessly connecting one family’s fortunes to those of the larger national community.” —Liza Nelson, O: The Oprah Magazine
“Startlingly good . . . You may forget that the characters don’t really exist, that the Iowa farm family so expertly drawn by the author never drew breath themselves.” —Julia Keller, Chicago Tribune
“Fantastic . . . Enormously satisfying . . . Thompson has a light, exquisite touch. . . . Rich, detailed, resonant, emotionally spot-on.” —Bill Eichenberger, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
“Enlightening and quietly brilliant . . . Thompson is a master at mining the most ridiculous of human foibles while never losing compassion for her flawed characters.” —Connie Ogle, The Miami Herald
“Wry and tender . . . Such is Thompson’s artistry that moments of everyday sorrow and nobility made me weep.” —John Repp, Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Told with extraordinary grace . . . The clan at the center of Jean Thompson’s spare, startlingly resonant new novel remain inextricably linked to the place that made them, even as they reach for lives richer in both geography and purpose.” —Leah Greenblatt, Entertainment Weekly
“A smart, resonant novel.” —Boston Globe
“Powerful and darkly humorous . . . Thompson’s characters are sharply drawn and deeply familiar. Her dialogue is pitch-perfect.” —Laurie Hertzel, Minneapolis Star Tribune
In Thompson's unforgettable, offbeat novel, an extended Iowa family struggles for emotional and economic stability over three decades, beginning with a modest Lutheran wedding in 1983 and ending with a bittersweet homecoming.
An Illinois writer who has drawn acclaim for story collections includingDo Not Deny Me (2009) andWho Do You Love(1999) and novels includingCity Boy(2004) andWide Blue Yonder(2003), Thompson has crafted a dazzling book that works both as an epic page-turner and a series of tightly focused, chronologically arranged stories. Long before the recent recession, the Ericksons, a family of Norwegian descent based in the town of Grenada, are up against it—both as part of a farm community and through ties to the banking community that's under violent threat from foreclosed farmers. As the Ericksons' story unfolds, marital problems, alcoholism, posttraumatic stress syndrome and a horrific car accident leave their mark. Among the siblings, Ryan, whose ponytailed academic hopes were derailed by an incident with a political-science student in Chicago, has succeeded in computer programming only to find himself on a career bubble. A second chance with an old girlfriend proves more ill-advised than the first. Torrie, the bright upstart in the family, suffers a devastating brain injury in the car accident. Cousin Chip is a maladjusted Vietnam veteran just waiting to go off. For all the setbacks the family suffers, their strong ties to each other and their geographical roots ultimately lift them above circumstance. And there are enough unexpected turns, foremost Torrie's awakening as a visionary photographer, to complicate any lessons about fate. 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. Touted as her commercial breakthrough, the novelis a powerful reflection on middle American life—on the changes wrought by the passing years and the values that endure.
A masterful wide-angle portrait of an Iowa family over three decades.