Discussion questions for "The Year We Left Home"
or where is the “home” referenced in the book’s title?
does Janine desert Ryan midway through their trip to Colorado? How and why do you resonate with
Janine’s and/or with Ryan’s experience during the stay at the Ericson
reflects again and again on what he calls “the Great State of Alienation” (page
116, 215). Many, if not all, the
book’s characters experience alienation, albeit in difference ways and
different degrees. Discuss.
had known that when it came to marrying, something remarkable was expected
of her. It was a small town, and
girls like her were burdened with everyone’s admiration and spite.” (page
134) Do you think this is an
accurate depiction of a beautiful girl’s burden in 1970’s small town Iowa? Why or why not? How does Anita come to terms with a life
that does not live up to her expectations?
mother said to Anita, “It used to be good enough if you kept a clean house
and did right by your children and now you’re supposed to go out and be
some kind of world-beater.” (page
80) How does a mother know if she
has done right by her children?
about what Ryan discovers about himself on his family trip to Italy. Ryan reflects, at a wedding reception in
that weddings are “more alike than different. The strain of so much public
happiness. The promises everyone is
expected to keep.” (page 280) Do
you agree or disagree with Ryan? Do
you think that this is meant to be Ryan’s opinion or the view conveyed by
the novel? Why?
is the Ericson son who never left his hometown. Thompson finally shares Blake’s
perspective on page 250. Why does
the author delay so long in letting us hear Blake speak? How does Blake’s chapter affect your
understanding of the Ericson family dynamics?
as a character, makes the reader feel uneasy, uncomfortable. How does Thompson accomplish this?
you a “leaver” or a “stayer”? Which
Erickson child do you feel you are most like? Which character would you choose for a
Erickson Child was the most successful?
Who was the happiest?
has special insight into Torrie’s struggles. Chip understands “you didn’t give up
wanting things because your life had put them out of reach. Even if everybody else tried to make you
into some kind of crippled saint.” (page 291) In what ways is this true for Torrie,
for Chip, and for other characters in the novel?
- One of
the characters observes, “We never grew up.” Is this a characteristic of Baby Boomers? How will their children be different?
this story alcohol damages individuals and families, and meth and other
illegal substances are portrayed as threats to the fabric of small town
life. What role does substance
abuse play in the decline of rural communities?
asks his history students a question which is a major concern of the
novel: “How did it happen that some
people lived unquestioning lives, never doubted their place in that
enterprise called America, their proprietary involvement, their stake in
its successes, while others turned away?” (page 116) How would you answer him? How is this question explored in The
Year We Left Home?
- In the
book Hollowing Out the Middle:
The Rural Brain Drain and What It Means to America by Carr and
Kefalas, the theory is presented that Iowans measure the success of their
young people by how far they move from their hometown. Discuss what evidence you have seen of
this in rural Iowa
Peerson family, whom Ryan thinks of as “part of some grim, old-country
past that laid claim to him without his consent” (page 3-4), is not
fleshed out in great detail in The Year We Left Home, and yet they
appear and are referenced many times during the course of the book. Talk about the Peersons and their place
in Thompson’s novel. Talk about the
“Peerson equivalent” in your own life and history.
is a master at using satire and humor (“Another family, another loan
officer, all dead. The farmers were
always good shots.” page 140). How
does humor and satire affect the tone of the book? Cite some of your favorite examples.
about how Iowa, and rural life in general, is poked fun at in the
novel. Are scenes such as the
American Legion Hall wedding reception, the farm foreclosure auction, the
visit to Aunt Martha authentic? How
do they figure in to the fabric of the novel? Talk about similar scenes that are
important to the story of your own life.
reflects at the end of the book (in the 2003 chapter) “There had been
seven fat years and now there were seven lean ones, all this with the
country gone into an ugly, shaky tailspin . . . .” (page 314) How has the state of our country changed
over the past decade?
- Is the
novel’s ending happy or sad? What
ending would you have chosen?