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How memories, choices shape us at heart of sometimes melancholic, well-written novel

How memories, choices shape us at heart of sometimes melancholic, well-written novel

Intrigued by the passage of time, the choices we make and the constraints life forces on us, Jean Thompson, a New York Times bestseller and National Book Award finalist author, let a swirl of happenings and thoughts combine to create her latest novel, "A Cloud in The Shape of a Girl" (Simon & Schuster 2018; $26.00).

“The inspiration for the book came at me from different directions,” she says.

“I was interested in how different generations pass on their memories, what the context of our day-to-day life is, and how we choose to remember our past. At the time I was putting this all together, there were all these violent family episodes in the news and that played a part, too. As a sidebar, so did the unearthing of my grandmother’s 1922 Rockford College yearbook and my grandfather’s from Lombard High School in 1912.”

Using one family in a time span from World War II to now, Thompson follows the changing American culture over the years as seen through the lives of three women — mother, daughter and granddaughter living in an unnamed midwestern college town (note: Thompson lives in Urbana, Illinois), dealing with the cards they’ve been dealt and yearning for so much more.

“For some of these women, the choices are made for them,” Thompson says.

“Evelyn, the grandmother, can’t achieve what she wants and so settles. Laura, the mother, always wanted to have a family but, as she says, ‘just not the family I have.’ And Grace has endless options, but still struggles.”

It’s a melancholic novel at times but exceptionally well-written, showing the ties and love binding three generations of women together and the need for all of us to avoid repeating the past by studying the history of those we love as well as our own, and making decisions about what to leave behind and what we need to go forward to achieve what we desire.


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