The Year We Left Home
Over the course of a thirty-year career, Jean Thompson has been celebrated by critics as “a writer of extraordinary intelligence and sensitivity” (O, The Oprah Magazine), “an American Alice Munro” (The Wall Street Journal), and “one of our most lucid and insightful writers” (San Francisco Chronicle). Her peers have been no less vocal, from Jennifer Egan (“bracing . . . boldly unconventional”) to David Sedaris (“if there are ‘Jean Thompson characters,’ they’re us, and never have we been as articulate and worthy of compassion”).
Now, in The Year We Left Home, Thompson brings together all of her talents to deliver the career-defining novel her admirers have been waiting for: a sweeping and emotionally powerful story of a single American family during the tumultuous final decades of the twentieth century. It begins in 1973 when the Erickson family of Grenada, Iowa, gathers for the wedding of their eldest daughter, Anita. Even as they celebrate, the fault lines in the family emerge. The bride wants nothing more than to raise a family in her hometown, while her brother Ryan watches restlessly from the sidelines, planning his escape. He is joined by their cousin Chip, an unpredictable, war-damaged loner who will show Ryan both the appeal and the perils of freedom. Torrie, the Ericksons’ youngest daughter, is another rebel intent on escape, but the choices she makes will bring about a tragedy that leaves the entire family changed forever.
Stretching from the early 1970s in the Iowa farmlands to suburban Chicago to the coast of contemporary Italy—and moving through the Vietnam War’s aftermath, the farm crisis, the numerous economic boomsand busts—The Year We Left Home follows the Erickson siblings as they confront prosperity and heartbreak, setbacks and triumphs, and seek their place in a country whose only constant seems to be breathtaking change. Ambitious, richly told, and fiercely American, this is a vivid and moving meditation on our continual pursuit of happiness and an incisive exploration of the national character.
Read an Excerpt
The bride and groom had two wedding receptions: the first was in the basement of the Lutheran church right after the ceremony, with punch and cake and coffee and pastel mints. This was for those of the bride’s relatives who were stern about alcohol. The basement was low-ceilinged and smelled of metallic furnace heat. Old ladies wearing corsages sat on folding chairs, while other guests stood and managed their cake plates and plastic forks as best they could. The pastor smiled with professional benevolence. The bride and groom posed for pictures, buoyed by adrenaline and relief. There had been... see more
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Reading Group Guide
Beginning in a small town in Iowa in 1973, The Year We Left Home follows one extended family through marriages, divorces, tragedy, and everyday life over a span of thirty years. Told from the perspectives of different characters across multiple generations, it provides a stirring, insightful look at how one family redefines happiness and relationships over the course of their lives.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Early on in the novel, Ryan muses “what really counted was the life you made for yourself, and the person you decided to be.” (p. 11) Does this prove to be true? How does this play out in his life, and in the lives of his family members? How does this concept change for him?
2. “Something in him always stood apart, and he was not who people assumed was.” (p. 27) How is this true for Ryan throughout the novel? How do the characters define themselves, and each other?
3. Which narrator did you like best: Anita, Ryan, Chip, Torrie, Audrey, M see more