Kirkus Reviews QR Code
THE YEAR WE LEFT HOME by Jean Thompson Kirkus Star

THE YEAR WE LEFT HOME

By Jean Thompson

Pub Date: May 1st, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-4391-7588-0
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

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 including Do Not Deny Me (2009) and Who Do You Love (1999) and novels including City Boy (2004) and Wide 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 novel is 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.