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The Year We Left Home: A Novel Hardcover – May 3, 2011

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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)
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“Wise and absorbing, this is one not to miss.” —People

“An extraordinarily warm-hearted 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.” —Jonathan Dee, The New York Times Book Review

“Lovely . . . 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. But even minor characters receive the full attention of the author’s prodigious talents; each one is drawn so vividly that they never feel less than utterly real.” —Leah Greenblatt, Entertainment Weekly

“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, that most of the events that transpire across the book’s three-decade span aren’t part of the historical record.” —Julia Keller, Chicago Tribune

“Bleak, wry, and tender . . . Syntax and sense are so perfectly melded, the reader steps through the looking glass and lives in the world the words conjure. . . . Such is Thompson’s artistry that moments of everyday sorrow and nobility made me weep.” —John Repp, Cleveland Plain Dealer

“[A] rich, detailed, resonant, emotionally spot-on novel . . . Thompson has a light, exquisite touch. The Year We Left Home feels weightless as a result. By the end of the novel, the reader knows more about the Ericksons than even the Ericksons. The effect is enormously satisfying, allowing the reader not only to connect the dots but to fill in the blanks the author shrewdly leaves wide open.” —Bill Eichenberger, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“Powerful and darkly humorous…Thompson's characters are sharply drawn and deeply familiar. Her dialogue is pitch-perfect.” —Laurie Hertzel, Minneapolis Star Tribune

“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)

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; First Edition edition (May 3, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1439175888
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439175880
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (103 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,041,240 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

100 of 108 people found the following review helpful By M. Lignor on April 30, 2011
Format: Hardcover
An extremely intriguing tale of a family in the small town of Granada, Iowa during thirty years of their lives. It's a fine story with much humor, striking details and pity for some of the characters.

The tale starts in 1973 at the wedding of the oldest daughter in the Erickson clan. As they all are celebrating this event the troubles that will plague the family for three decades is beginning. The bride, Anita wants to marry a local guy and raise a family in the town she grew up in. The next child in line, Ryan, watches his sister marry and is already planning his escape from the town he has grown to despise. At the wedding, Ryan runs into his cousin, Chip, who is a Vietnam veteran. A very mixed up individual who is about to show Ryan the attraction and the dangers of freedom. There is another son, Blake, still in school and not altogether interested in anything at the moment. Last, but definitely not least, the youngest daughter, Torrie, also dreaming of putting the hometown in her rear view mirror as she speeds out of town. Unfortunately, the path she chooses will lead to tragedy that will alter many plans. I didn't mention Mom and Dad. These are regular folks that work hard and take care of their family as best they can.

This story moves from 1973 to 2003, from the farms of Iowa to Chicago and a short time in Italy. It takes us through the horror of the Vietnam War, the crisis facing the farms and the economic highs and lows when there were many foreclosures on homes in the midwest when the large farms had to shut down. This wonderful story follows the Erickson family through thick and thin, wealth and poverty, victories and failures as they work their way through life with all it's ups and downs and try to find a place for themselves in a changing world.
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51 of 55 people found the following review helpful By Jill I. Shtulman TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 1, 2011
Format: Hardcover
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 bookended 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.
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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful By B. PERRY on May 17, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
What a well-written book -- characters, heaped upon themselves, so fully developed that I could see them. Will not write paragraphs or an actual review -- will just say I have not enjoyed a book as much as this one in quite a while. The writer, Jean Thompson, is a great storyteller. Reminded me of Richard Russo's family tales -- humorous, in parts, intriguing and vivid.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Denise Crawford TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 1, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I wanted to like this novel much more than I actually did. When I closed the book after reading the last chapter (which, in my opinion, was the best in the entire saga, actually), I was left with vague feelings of disquiet. As Blake states when his brother Ryan wonders how the "old-timers" felt about their lives: "They didn't think in terms of happy."

This novel was a series of disjointed vignettes spanning 1973-2003, told in alternating points of view, that give us a snapshot into both the banal and the significant moments in the lives of the large extended Nordic, Lutheran, Erikson family who were born and raised in the rural Midwestern small town of Grenada, Iowa. Each child tries to "leave" in his or her own way, and the picture that emerges as each person tells their story is one of hopeful alienation and the pain of self discovery. It was all somewhat depressing. The tales related in each section reflect the events going on in each of the main characters' lives -- Anita, Ryan, Blake, Torrie -- but also involve their cousins, parents and other relatives and how they all are a part of a family that was "built to last" despite all the trials and tribulations. There are some unfinished stories that left me with questions about what happened "after" or how things ended up the way they did, but though the author sometimes picks up that story line again in a later chapter, some were left dangling. The brothers and sisters seemed to limp painfully toward adulthood, but there are a few triumphs amidst their struggles.

The last paragraph -- as one of the children sums up his analysis of his ancestral past and his hope for the future -- is absolutely one of the best parts of this book and one I will remember for a very long time. Any curious reader will simply have to get the book and read it.
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