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Book Review

‘The Year We Left Home’

3/6/2013

Courtesy of Beaverdale Books

bookReview by Barb Palar

Simon and Schuster

2011

$15

HIV

325 pp.

Jean Thompson had me with the first paragraph: “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.”

I could see, smell, taste and hear every word of that intro, and I am delighted that this book has been chosen as this year’s “All Iowa Reads.”

Jeff and Anita, the couple whose 1973 wedding opens the book, endure a sad marriage which took place, unfortunately, a few years too soon to allow Anita to enjoy some of the freedoms that women gained in the later ’70s. By 1979, when Ryan and Anita’s younger sister, Torrie, is looking at colleges, choices for women have improved somewhat, but ambitious women were still not highly regarded in small-town Iowa. Nor did rural Iowa appreciate her vegetarianism or her affinity for Bob Dylan. A tragedy ends Torrie’s dreams and sets her in a different direction with her talents and ambitions.

Most of the story is told through the eyes of Ryan, brother of the bride, who is a student at the University of Iowa when the story opens. Switching his major from business to political science, which he announces to his family when he brings home a hippie girlfriend (a poetry major!) is the first of many disappointments to his parents. The story comes full circle when Ryan encounters the same girlfriend later in life.

The 1970s is sometimes overlooked as a throw-away decade; as we see through the experiences of one family, its sometimes innocuous seeming events launched lives in directions nobody would have anticipated at the wedding that opens the book. CV

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