- Hardcover: 336 pages
- Publisher: Simon & Schuster (October 23, 2018)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1501194364
- ISBN-13: 978-1501194368
- Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 30 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #32,195 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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A Cloud in the Shape of a Girl Hardcover – October 23, 2018
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Praise for A CLOUD IN THE SHAPE OF A GIRL by JEAN THOMPSON
"There's not a false note in this powerful, beautifully crafted exploration of the trade-offs in women's lives."—PEOPLE
"Thompson’s incisive, intricate novel centers on three generations of women living in a small, unnamed Midwestern college town. As Thompson (Who Do You Love) examines the present and past of each of the three generations of women, she adroitly reveals how their life experiences shaped them into being so different from one another. Intense, compassionate, and satisfying, Thompson’s novel is filled with real, complex characters whose destinies are inextricably tied to the women in their lives."—PUBLISHERS WEEKLY
“With low-key yet piercing humor, caustic observations balanced with compassion, and entrancing storytelling mojo, Thompson masterfully uncovers the contrary emotions surging beneath the flat, orderly landscapes and tidy homes of the Midwest… As storms, gardens, and trees punctuate and embody the richly reverberating family drama Thompson so astutely orchestrates, she unflinchingly examines desire and resignation, death and inheritance, while tracing women’s generational struggles for genuine independence…Like those of Jane Hamilton and Antonya Nelson, Thompson’s embracing domestic novel invites reflection and discussion.”—BOOKLIST
"Jean Thompson’s new novel draws the reader in with character and plot…but what ultimately holds the reader enthralled is the chance to witness Thompson’s exceptional powers of observation when it comes to the smallest, most subtle reactions people have to each other and to the ebb and flow of life around them...The story’s drama, sweeping across generations, is mesmerizing, but page by page is where Thompson truly showcases her great skill: her ability to capture the nuance of individual moments, thoughts, and reactions. No one writing today is better at this...[an] extraordinary novel."—WASHINGTON INDEPENDENT REVIEW OF BOOKS
"Thompson brilliantly explores familial struggles...[a] remarkable achievement.”—NEW YORK JOURNAL OF BOOKS
"Exceptionally well-written, showing the ties and love binding three generations of women together and the need for all of us to avoid repeating the past by studying the history of those we love as well as our own, and making decisions about what to leave behind and what we need to go forward to achieve what we desire."—NORTHWEST INDIANA TIMES
“Jean Thompson is a brilliant novelist from the classic school of storytelling. This is a moving tale built upon a foundation of unforgettable characters, drawn with empathy and insight. A Cloud in the Shape of a Girl is a story that illustrates our present moment through a keen and unflinching look at our past. Thompson’s work centers on the Midwest, what some call ‘fly over’ country, but in her hands, we come to see that it is the center.”—TAYARI JONES, New York Times bestselling author of AN AMERICAN MARRIAGE
“In this beautiful and unflinching novel, Thompson excavates one of life’s essential truths: if we aren’t doomed to repeat the past we are certainly called to reckon with it, to acknowledge the shape of our personal history and decide what to carry forward, what to bury. Gorgeously written and perfectly composed, this book is a powerful look at the unbidden forces that shape our lives and the unexpected places where love erupts and flourishes.”—CYNTHIA D'APRIX SWEENEY, New York Times bestselling author of THE NEST
About the Author
Jean Thompson is a novelist and short story writer. Her works include the novels A Cloud in the Shape of a Girl, She Poured Out Her Heart, The Humanity Project, The Year We Left Home, City Boy, Wide Blue Yonder, The Woman Driver, and My Wisdom and the short story collections The Witch and Other Tales Re-Told, Do Not Deny Me, Throw Like a Girl, Who Do You Love (a National Book Award finalist), Little Face and Other Stories, and The Gasoline Wars. Thompson’s short fiction has been published in many magazines and journals, including the New Yorker, and anthologized in The Best American Short Stories and The Pushcart Prize. Thompson has been the recipient of Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Arts fellowships, among other accolades, and has taught creative writing at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Reed College, Northwestern University, and other colleges and universities. She lives in Urbana, Illinois.
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Is agency governed by choice or by decree? Does history determine your future? As women, are we bound to roles passed down by our mothers? How can we fix our lives when mired in a damaged, dysfunctional family? In this story of three generations of women, spanning over 80 years, the questions of legacy and expectations—both your own and your parents’—are addressed.
Three generations of Wise women, in a small midwestern town, with their various ambitions and stifled longings, are keenly portrayed in this story. Evelyn, well educated, taught college during WW II, taking advantage of the vacancies when men went off to war. She was an unconventional thinker and assertive achiever who married late and had children even later. She capitulated to choices against her nature, and paid for it with growing resentment and ill-disposed mothering. Evelyn lived in the shadow of her husband—the conduct of the good wife, while she was devoured by custom and housework.
Evelyn’s daughter, Laura, was unlike her mother; she was obliging and pliable and sought love and marriage. Eventually, she settled for an unruly and moody alcoholic, and took a backseat to his will. Her minor career offered meager satisfaction, and she tried to be the glue in her family. Laura coddled her self-destructive son and took her daughter, Grace, for granted; she expected Grace to be accommodating to the men in the family. Now in her twenties, Grace wants more for herself, but she’s stuck in a matrilineal legacy. She carries her burden with dread, and is caught in a battle of wills.
The pace moves gently as the characters deepen and troubles increase, but there’s an urgency growling subtly beneath the narrative. It’s a pull and push, a tug of war, a war of the women in the quagmire of history.
“And yet history shifted underneath your feet…The present was a dizzy perch that every so often began to spin and slide…You held onto your life with both hands, you told yourself to pay attention to this moment, the here and now. But one minute passed into the next, and at some point you looked back and everything was over and people called it history.”
Evelyn, Laura, and Grace – three generations of women who have lived their lives in a small college town. For the most part their lives are conventional for their eras, though secrets are contained in each story. Theirs are largely familiar quotidian stories of motherhood and family; births, deaths, raising children, marriage, and occasional catastrophes and tragedies. This is a character-driven novel, not a plot driven one, though there are some suspenseful moments toward the end. The “today” character, Grace, dominates most of the story, and Thompson does a brilliant job of showing how Grace’s life is both similar to her mother’s and grandmother’s, and also how vastly different it is in today’s culture.
Two things occurred to me while reading this novel. The first was in noticing that both Laura and Grace have brothers only, I wondered how their stories would have been different had they had a sister (in addition to, or in place of, a brother). Sisters, especially when they are close, share both joys and burdens, and probably would have made these characters less isolated. The other thing I noted is that with the advent of DNA/genetic services such as “23 and Me” and others, it’s much less likely that paternity switcheroos will stay hidden, even for past generations.
Solid 4.5 stars!
If you are one that enjoys a character driven novel, this is the book for you.
Author Jean Thompson tells the story of three women -- Evelyn, Laura, and Grace. Three generations of women who aren't very satisfied with their lives. Grandmother, mother, daughter - all of them yearning for something that they never quite achieve. The book spans the time period of WW2 to the present. The book jumps from each character's life and back again. Thompson does a flawless job of this -- we meet old loves, old friends, the past history that makes these three women who they are today.
This is not a happy book; at times it was downright depressing. Each lady's journey is woven with the others and their history. The men in their lives - and there are plenty between the three of them -- play such a major role in their happiness/unhappiness. What do you do for love? Or is it love? Between their fathers, husbands, friends, brothers, lovers, Evelyn, Laura, and Grace all struggle to find themselves.
What I took away from this book was advice to any woman -- don't settle for just anyone. Honestly, I could feel each women's angst as I read and I swear I could hear their long and mournful sighs!
This is a good book, but be prepared not to take a walk into La-La Land. This is real life -- and Jean Thompson tells a great story.