The basics: The Year We Left Home is the story of the Erickson family in Iowa. It stretches from oldest sibling Anita's wedding in the 1970's to present day.
My thoughts: I was eager to read The Year We Left Home for two reasons: I've been intending to read Jean Thompson for years and it takes place in Iowa (where I live.) My perceptions of this novel changed mightily as I read it. Over the course of the first one hundred pages, I was convinced it wasn't a novel at all but rather a set of very loosely connected stories. There were gems of gorgeous writing like this sentence: "Ryan had meant something else, though now his meaning escaped him, what was it like, to travel across an ocean, to be in a war, to be afraid for your life, to kill someone or think about killing them, to buy a woman." Still, I yearned for character development. Although the action shifted to different characters, I felt Thompson kept all of them an arm's length away from the reader.
As the book continued on and more time passed, however, the characters began to weave back into the story in multiple ways. While I appreciated this patient literary technique, I still felt incredibly removed from these characters. I wanted Thompson to push her characters and story as far as she pushed her language.
Favorite passage: "When he was younger he had wished to see the world, and then he had wished to change it, and then he had been afraid it was passing him by. And his mistake had been to confuse a particular woman with the world."
The verdict: Although the book ended more strongly than it began, much of the novel reads like short stories that would work almost as well as stand-alones. Ultimately, I wanted as much from these characters as I got from Thompson's use of language, but she left me wanting more.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 336 pages
Publication date: May 3, 2011
Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy The Year We Left Home from an independent bookstore, the Book Depository or Amazon (Kindle version.)
As an affiliate, I receive a very, very small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!