I think I just finished my favorite book of the summer.
The Year We Left Home, by Jean Thompson, is exactly the kind of book I love - a family drama spanning several decades with commentary about modern American life. The book is really more of a collection of related chapters, rather than a novel with a linear plot. It's about the Ericksons, four children in an unremarkable Iowa family: Anita, the beauty queen; Ryan, the smart one; Blake, the underachiever; and Torrie, the rebellious teen. Also in the mix is Chip, their cousin, who is a mentally unstable Vietnam vet when the book opens in the 70s.
I loved The Year We Left Home. It's full of the kind of realistic detail that makes you feel like you're in the room, watching the action unfold. There are few words in the book that ring false. These characters are flawed, to be sure, and their lives are full of disappointments and challenges. Midwestern America from the '70s to the '00s serves as the backdrop of the Ericksons' lives, from the two wars bookending the story to the tech bubble and the farm foreclosures of the 80s.
Because each chapter jumps ahead to different time periods and characters, The Year We Left Home isn't a linear story, as mentioned above. But there is a theme threaded throughout: the relationship these characters have to their Iowa hometown, whether they stayed or left, and the push and pull effect that home and family have on the lives we live once we become old enough to leave.
There are a lot of poignant passages throughout - here's one that I liked:
The sun slid over his face, warming it. It was a nice moment, and he felt a kind of useless melancholy at the idea that that the three of them would never again sit here in just such a moment and that no moment of life was like any other and as soon as you became aware of them, they were as good as gone. He must have been tired.
I found myself reading this one slowly, so that I could savor each page. Thompson builds subtle suspense and tension throughout the book, and minor characters make recurring appearances that tie the book together realistically without feeling contrived.
So, I'm recommending this one highly, if you like the same kinds of books that I do. Thanks to Simon & Schuster for the review copy. (Hi FTC! I think you'd like this one too. Especially the tech bubble part.)