THE YEAR WE LEFT HOME by Jean Thompson

Book Quote:

“…it frightened him to think he might come to know all the things he didn’t know and then there would be no place in the world where he would feel at ease, no place he would not judge or measure, no place that would be his true home…”

Book Review:

Review by Jill I. Shtulman (MAY 05, 2011)

Jean Thompson has been aptly labeled “an American Alice Munro,” and as a reader who has been mesmerized time and again by her captivating short-story collections, I wholeheartedly concur.

Now, in The Year We Left Home, Ms. Thompson leverages all her strengths and skills as a short-story writer and creates a sweeping and emotionally satisfying novel composed of interlocking, decade-spanning stories of a family in flux. As her grand theme, she takes on the universal quest for “home,” exploring all the manifestations of that search.

The novel is bookmarked by two wars – the Vietnam War and the Iraqi War. It begins in 1973 when the Erickson family of Grenada, Iowa, gathers to celebrate the continuing of tradition with the marriage of the eldest daughter, Anita. As some family members – the parents, Anita and her new husband Jeff – get ready to take their place in pre-defined roles, others are restlessly searching for a way out of Iowa – notably, her brother Ryan.

As this fiercely American novel takes this family down the road of its personal setbacks and triumphs, the country, too, is going through its own weaving road: from war to peace to war again, through economic booms to heartbreaking farm crises, from conventional values to sweeping changes. Ryan reflects, “The Great State of Alienation. It stretched from sea to shining sea. Everybody in America is one of two things, either in or out. His wife was right, they’d worked so hard and were so proud to be on the outside of everything they’d grown up with. But they were inside of nothing but themselves.”

As the family disperses, each must strive to get back to that central core, a place to feel at ease. Their rebellious cousin Chip, a war-damaged Vietnam vet whose mind has become uncentered, has, perhaps, the further distance to navigate; he must travel geographically and emotionally to reach the place that he has known as home.

But the others must also embark on their own personal journeys – confronting alcoholism, life-altering accidents, divorces, agoraphobia, professional setbacks, low-grade discount and changing standards to reach their own personal centers and to embrace their own realities. Ms. Thompson seems to imply that we all face our own forms of disconnect, but with recognition and a little effort, we will eventually arrive at “true home.”

Only one of the characters – the younger brother, Blake – chooses to stay home and follow what appears to be his predestined path. Although he is the most content of the siblings, he does not escape unscathed. There are days in which he, too, ponders where life has taken him and whether he should have been more of a risk-taker.

As a new generation follows their generation, Ryan again reflects, “They had done so much. They had meant to do so much more. Imagine them slipping off to death regretting the task unfinished, the field unplowed, the child unloved.”

Richly told, finely crafted, authentically explored, The Year We Left Home gives new insights into home, family, and indeed, the American experience. Those who enjoy books such as Elizabeth Stout’s Olive Kitteridge – quiet books that pack a big wallop – this is a must-read.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-5from 8 readers
PUBLISHER: Simon & Schuster (May 3, 2011)
REVIEWER: Jill I. Shtulman
EXTRAS: Reading Guide and Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Read our review of:Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

Too Much Happiness by Alice Munro

More by Jean Thompson:

City Boy


May 5, 2011 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , , ,  · Posted in: Contemporary, US Midwest

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