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The Distance Home is a novel of oppositions. Set in a landscape at once stark and beautiful, Paula Saunders introduces a family full of meanness and cruelty, but also crushing, miraculous love. These characters, this story, these sentences transcend the typical family drama, as Saunders shows us a world where hate and love are made of the same stuff, and where home and family are the best and worst things that will ever happen to you. In this novel, it is possible to be dragged down by the world, but also to be lifted up by it.
— Tyler Goodson
“[Paula] Saunders skillfully illuminates how time heals certain wounds while deepening others. . . . A mediation of the violence of American ambition.”—The New York Times Book Review
NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY REAL SIMPLE
“A deeply involving portrait of the American postwar family” (Jennifer Egan) about sibling rivalry, dark secrets, and a young girl’s struggle with freedom and artistic desire
In the years after World War II, the bleak yet beautiful plains of South Dakota still embody all the contradictions—the ruggedness and the promise—of the old frontier. This is a place where you can eat strawberries from wild vines, where lightning reveals a boundless horizon, where descendants of white settlers and native Indians continue to collide, and where, for most, there are limited options. René shares a home, a family, and a passion for dance with her older brother, Leon. Yet for all they have in common, their lives are on remarkably different paths. In contrast to René, a born spitfire, Leon is a gentle soul. The only boy in their ballet class, Leon silently endures often brutal teasing. Meanwhile, René excels at everything she touches, basking in the delighted gaze of their father, whom Leon seems to disappoint no matter how hard he tries.
As the years pass, René and Leon’s parents fight with increasing frequency—and ferocity. Their father—a cattle broker—spends more time on the road, his sporadic homecomings both yearned for and dreaded by the children. And as René and Leon grow up, they grow apart. They grasp whatever they can to stay afloat—a word of praise, a grandmother’s outstretched hand, the seductive attention of a stranger—as René works to save herself, crossing the border into a larger, more hopeful world, while Leon embarks on a path of despair and self-destruction.
Tender, searing, and unforgettable, The Distance Home is a profoundly American story spanning decades—a tale of haves and have-nots, of how our ideas of winning and losing, success and failure, lead us inevitably into various problems with empathy and caring for one another. It’s a portrait of beauty and brutality in which the author’s compassionate narration allows us to sympathize, in turn, with everyone involved.
“A riveting family saga for the ages . . . one of the best books I’ve read in years.”—Mary Karr
“Saunders’ debut is an exquisite, searing portrait of family and of people coping with whatever life throws at them while trying to keep close to one another.”—Booklist (starred review)
About the Author
Paula Saunders grew up in Rapid City, South Dakota. She is a graduate of the Syracuse University creative writing program, and was awarded a postgraduate Albert Schweitzer Fellowship at the State University of New York at Albany, under then-Schweitzer chair Toni Morrison. She lives in California with her husband. They have two grown daughters.
“The Distance Home is a deeply involving portrait of the American postwar family: its promises and disruptions—surrounded by a rich, shimmering, sensuous South Dakota landscape.”—Jennifer Egan
“[Paula] Saunders skillfully illuminates how time heals certain wounds while deepening others, and her depiction of aging is viscerally affecting. . . . The Distance Home becomes a mediation of the violence of American ambition—and a powerful call for self-examination.”—The New York Times Book Review
“Saunders’ debut is an exquisite, searing portrait of family and of people coping with whatever life throws at them while trying to keep close to one another. . . . The Distance Home will leave readers eager for more from this extraordinarily talented author.”—Booklist (starred review)
“The author’s compassion for her characters shines through in this honest story.”—Library Journal
“Penetrating and insightful . . . This debut wonderfully depicts the entire lifespan of a singular family.”—Publishers Weekly
“Paula Saunders has given us a riveting family saga for the ages. The Distance Home is fresh, with a seductive Midwestern innocence, though the book’s outwardly ideal clan holds dark secrets that kept me turning pages into the wee hours. This is one of the best books I’ve read in years—destined to become a classic.”—Mary Karr
“In The Distance Home, a family’s story—its past, its present, and (most surprising) its future—traces the intricate, often subterranean lines that connect damage to redemption, creation to dissolution, and the everyday to the eternal, just to name several of its moving and startling aspects. It’s a true, and rare, accomplishment.”—Michael Cunningham
“The Distance Home is a bracing and beautiful novel about a fierce struggle for love and understanding in a South Dakota family, and about aspiration (both thwarted and encouraged) in an unforgiving place. Read it—it will break your heart and open it up.”—Maile Meloy, author of Do Not Become Alarmed
“The Distance Home is the coming-of-age story of an artistically talented girl who grows up amid the emotional turmoil of a dysfunctional family she yearns to save. Set in the isolation of South Dakota prairie towns and then the provincialism of Rapid City, The Distance Home is an exemplary story of what hardworking people suffered in Middle America in the late twentieth century while striving to achieve dreams. This soul-searching first novel offers everywhere that most mysterious and essential of artistic achievements: heart.”—Douglas Unger, author of Leaving the Land and Voices from Silence
“An extraordinary debut. Paula Saunders writes beautiful, evocative prose that engages you in every aspect of this world. The Distance Home is heartbreaking and full of compassion while also managing to be exacting, precise, and truthful. It accomplishes what great fiction should: we get a glimpse of our own humanity—a hard-won clarity—through the story of this particular haunted family and the woman who moved on, survived, but never exactly left.”—Dana Spiotta, author of Innocents and Others and Stone Arabia