First edition.
Publisher, Date:
New York : Random House, [2018]
292 pages ; 25 cm
9780525508748 (hardcover)
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Call Number:
F Sau
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Author Notes
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.
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  Library Journal Review

DEBUT Saunders's bleak story begins after World War II on the isolated South Dakota plains, where childhood friends Eve and Al begin married life in a basement apartment in his parents' house. Al joins his father in the cattle brokerage business. His extensive travels mean that Eve alone must create a life for children Leon, René, and Jayne. She sends clumsy Leon to tap dance, then ballet lessons, joined by René. Al is enraged over their son taking ballet; he also ignores Leon's baseball accomplishments, driving his son into embarrassing stuttering and self-destructive behavior until he leaves home after failing high school. Meanwhile, René refuses to be pulled down by small-town conformity, eventually finding artistic success in New York. Disconnected from her origins as the family disintegrates, she finally prays that angels will "carry each of wherever it was they all needed to go." VERDICT Drawing on Saunders's own family history, this debut novel captures the underlying turmoil of a dysfunctional family at war with themselves while hiding secrets from their past. The author's compassion for her characters shines through in this honest story. [See Prepub Alert, 2/19/18.]-Donna Bettencourt, Mesa Cty. P.L., Grand Junction, CO © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

  Publishers Weekly Review

Saunders debuts with a penetrating and insightful deconstruction of a Midwestern family. The story starts with Eve and Al, high school sweethearts who marry, have children, and find themselves mired in jealousy and misunderstanding. Throughout, Eve's indomitable spirit won't be quashed, no matter the conflicts or the despair that hover over her family. Firstborn Leon, an athlete with a penchant for ballet, is as opposite from his father as can be imagined. Middle child René, a fierce, competitive sprite, takes up ballet like her brother and can do no wrong in her father's eyes, much to Eve's consternation, whose heart lies with her first born. As the family moves from Missouri to South Dakota, where Al grows his cattle business and spends more time away from home, the story contrasts René, driven to achieve-despite the resentment it causes in everyone who crosses her path-and Leon, a misguided soul bearing his father's wrath. The sweet, easygoing youngest child, Jayne, doesn't get the same attention as the other characters. Still, Saunders brilliantly parses Leon and René's disparate paths; they are two wildly talented, sensitive souls-one shattered by life's circumstances, the other learning to soar above them. This debut wonderfully depicts the entire lifespan of a singular family. (Aug.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

  Booklist Review

*Starred Review* In mid-twentieth-century South Dakota, marrying at 18 signals the end of ambitious and overachieving Eve's dreams. Her husband, Al, a cattle broker, spends most of his nights on the road. When he's home, tension and arguments rule the house. When children arrive, they struggle to make a place for themselves in the family. The two eldest, Leon and Rene, find solace in a local dance class, its structure and discipline helping them navigate their rocky family life. Rene is as ambitious as her mother once was. Al basks in her success while berating Leon for his stutter and love of dance. Eve tries to smooth everything over, desperate to hang on to her volatile marriage to a man she loves and despises. 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. This beautifully written novel takes readers on a roller-coaster ride of emotions, delivering them to a place where painful memories live alongside hopes and dreams. The Distance Home will leave readers eager for more from this extraordinarily talented writer.--Gladstein, Carol Copyright 2010 Booklist

  Kirkus Review

The slow, punitive grind of family dynamics, even when leavened by love, contorts a Midwestern family.Where does all the hurt and anger go, wonders Ren, the lively, confident middle child, about her sad, victimized brother, Leon. Saunders' debut makes no bones about the answer to that question, illustrating in detail the sedimentary process of psychological damage inflicted on children by their parents, in this case Al and Eve. Married young in Fort Pierre, South Dakota, the couple settles, at first, in Al's parents' basement, Eve working two jobs, Ala cattle traderoften away on the road. Soon they have two children, Leon and Ren, later a third, Jayne, and money is tight. Set in the 1960s, the novel's world is remote and traditional, at least as represented by Al, whose pitiless response to his son's sensitivitiesa stutter; a startling gift for ballet dancingis knee-jerk harshness. Leon reacts by pulling out his hair and eyelashes and withdrawing from the family group, while Eve's attempts to defend him only result in arguments with her husband. Saunders avoids Leon's perspective, opting for Ren's instead. She too is warped by the constant tensions at home, becoming an overachiever whose will to excel leads to resentment and social rejection. Meanwhile, there's no respite for poor Leon, beaten by his father, assaulted by a stranger, and later sent to an abusive Catholic boarding school. Flashes forward confirm the inexorable outcome: Leon's future will be alcoholism, drugs, mental disease, and PTSD. Ren manages to escape, and Saunders suggests some healing balm in years to come, but not enough to displace the early, indelible harm.A grim, haunting parable of split child-rearing in which the dark blots out much of the light. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
"[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 <br> <br> "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 <br> <br> 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.<br> 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.<br> <br> 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.<br> <br> 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.<br> <br> "A riveting family saga for the ages . . . one of the best books I've read in years."--Mary Karr<br> <br> "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)
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