The Distance Home

Written by Paula Saunders
Review by Jo Ann Butler

Eve grew up in Ft. Pierre, South Dakota during WWII, on a dirt-poor farm that flooded every few years. Her parents are beaten down, but Eve summons grit to move up in the world. She studies and works hard, and the day she turns 18 she marries Al, a charmer who lives in the nicest house in Ft. Pierre. So what if they live in Eve’s in-laws’ basement, while Al spends weeks on the road buying and selling cattle? So what if Al and his mother play rank favorites with Eve’s children? They roundly reject firstborn Leon, but René, born three years later, is her father’s darling. Jayne, their youngest daughter, is all but forgotten.

Eve tries to make up for Leon’s rejection and to curb René’s strong-willed ways, but she is also fighting her own neglectful upbringing and dysfunctional, take no prisoners relationship with Al. The two older children are storm-tossed pawns, struggling with self-destructive behavior which crosses over into adulthood. Even ballet becomes a battleground; both gain strength and confidence, but only René finds approval from both parents. Al scorns his “Twinkle Toes” son.

Paula Saunders taps her Midwestern family history in her wrenching debut novel The Distance Home, and her career in ballet gives realism and passion to the siblings’ dance classes. Ms. Saunders’ story is both easy and difficult to read – I love her fluid prose, but her saddest family scenes ring true. So do René’s hopeful, cynical introspections. Though The Distance Home is a dark story, it is a fair omen for Ms. Saunders’ future literary career.