Friday, December 30, 2011

book review: The Year We Left Home by Jean Thompson

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
Source: library

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy The Year We Left Home from an independent bookstore, the Book Depository or Amazon (Kindle version.)

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  1. This is one of the books on the top of my TBR pile, and I am excited about reading it. It will be interesting to see what I think in relation to your reactions to this one, and I will have to perhaps chat with you about my feelings when I am done!

    Happy New Year!!

  2. This made my top 5 for 2011. Yes, definitely a collection of connected stories, but i loved the writing. Happy New Year!

  3. I sometimes find it misleading when a work of fiction is presented as a novel when it's really a collection of linked stories. If the publishers were upfront about this, readers might not find themselves a little jarred. I love linked stories but only if I'm prepared. Otherwise I feel like I've missed something.

    I'm going to give this a try -- beautiful writing and a story based in Iowa is a terrific combination.

    Happy New Year! May it be a year filled with happy adventures and wonderful books.


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