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The Distance Home by Paula Saunders : A Book Review

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.


A family saga set in the American West, about sibling rivalry, dark secrets, and a young girl’s struggle with freedom and artistic desire.

This moving debut novel is a profoundly American story. Set in a circa-1960s rural South Dakota–a hardscrabble place of cattle buyers, homegrown ballet studios, casual drug abuse, and unmitigated pressure to conform, all amid the great natural beauty of the region–the book portrays a loving but struggling young family in turmoil, and two siblings, Rene and Leon, who opt for different but equally extreme means of escaping the burdens of home. By turns funny and tragic, lyrical and terse, Paula Saunders’ debut examines the classic American questions: What is to become of the vulnerable in a culture of striving and power? And what is the effect of this striving and power on both those who dominate and those who are overrun? It is an affecting novel, in which the author’s compassionate narration allows us to sympathize, in turn, with everyone involved. 

My thoughts: I began reading this book back in March 2022. It had been sat on my book shelf for a while after receiving it in a ‘A Box of Stories’ subscription. It isn’t the usual type of book I would read but I read it nonetheless.

The story was gripping enough for me to continue turning the pages but once I had put the book down, it was very much forgotten about until I noticed it again. I also read a lot of books between March and September that caught my attention a lot more than this story.

In parts, The Distance Home was difficult to read as there was a lot of physical and emotional abuse mainly from the father towards one of his children, Leon. This abuse paves the way for Leons future which isn’t a good one. It’s a shame and I felt so sorry for him throughout and could completely understand why he turned out the way he was. As for the other characters, I did not click with any of them and so this made it difficult for me to feel any emotions towards them.

It also follows the other siblings Jayne and Rene, with Rene being more the centre of attention. The main storyline here besides their borderline traumatic upbringing is Leon and Rene learning ballet, with Rene eventually making dancing her career.

If you want to know how NOT to treat your wife and your children then this book is for you. It was captivating yet dull.

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