Wednesday, October 5, 2011
The Year We Left Home by Jean Thompson
I enjoyed this book about a Midwestern family set in the 1970's to the present, but I really wanted to love it. I found the characters interesting, but I didn't find myself caring for them. The leaps in time between chapters made this novel feel more like a collection of short stories. I don't say that as a bad thing (Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Stout is one of my favorites books). The chapters can stand alone. They might even be more powerful as individual stories.
The story spans three decades. We watch siblings Anita, Ryan, and Torrie struggle with emotional and financial stability at various stages of their lives. Anita marries a banker only to discover marriage and motherhood is way more difficult then she imagined. Ryan wants something more than Iowa can give him, but he's never quite sure what he needs. He moves to Chicago and ultimately lands in technology after trying to become a professor. We meet three women who influence the trajectory of his life. Torrie is the youngest who suffers a catastrophic brain injury. She accidentally discovers photography which leads to a chance to express her inner demons. I wanted to know more about Torrie.
Chip is the lost cousin who returns from Vietnam early in the novel. We follow Chip on various journeys to the Northwest, Mexico, and back to Iowa. Thompson provides varying degrees of information on Chip's journey. I found Chip to be the most compelling character. The return of his almost, but not quite, step son at the end of the novel is a welcome distraction. I would love to read a sequel about the step son's relationship with Torrie.