A saga from Iowa, punctuated with humor

  • Article by: LAURIE HERTZEL
  • Updated: April 30, 2011 - 3:09 PM

Thompson's novel -- linked short stories, really, told from various points of view -- is an exploration of the lure of freedom and the tug of home.

I am trying to figure out how I managed to miss Jean Thompson's books up until now. Thompson is the author of two previous novels (one a New York Times notable book) and three collections of short fiction (one a finalist for a National Book Award).

Her newest novel, "The Year We Left Home," is powerful and darkly humorous. It traces the lives of the extended Erickson family, farmers in Iowa whose children scatter like seeds -- to Chicago, Seattle, Mexico, Nevada -- and then slowly drift back again. Each chapter is told from the point of view of a different family member wrestling with the lure of freedom and the tug of home.

The book opens with a wedding in 1973 (and, oh, we have all been at this wedding, haven't we, with the groom nobody likes, and the reception at the American Legion hall?) and closes 30 years later. In between, the family weathers the farm crisis, the dot-com bubble and the real estate crash, as well as various family tragedies and heartbreak.

Thompson's characters are sharply drawn and deeply familiar. Her dialogue is pitch-perfect. (And I laughed out loud at the exchange in the Nevada desert between Vietnam vet Chip and his buddy Otto, none of which can be printed in a family newspaper.)

It's good to know that Thompson has five other books to her name. I have some catching up to do.

  • THE YEAR WE LEFT HOME

    By: Jean Thompson.

    Publisher: Simon & Schuster, 325 pages, $25.

    Review: Thompson's novel -- linked short stories, really, told from various points of view -- is an exploration of the lure of freedom and the tug of home.

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