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. The Distance Home is an 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.
I couldn’t help feeling disappointed [that] the novel’s exploration of prejudice and vulnerability remains incomplete ... Saunders movingly explores the difficulty of changing one’s course in the face of accumulated trauma, but the deeper implications of this rather delicate analogy to Native American experience remain unclear. Posing Leon as a subtle proxy for indigenity risks an oversimplified equivalence — unexpected in a novel sensitive to imbalance ... Still, Saunders skillfully illuminates how time heals certain wounds while deepening others, and her depiction of aging is viscerally affecting ... The Distance Home becomes a meditation on the violence of American ambition — and a powerful call for self-examination.
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.
The work’s long gestation is evident in its dexterous language and distilled wisdom ... The result is a fluid point of view that ho[m]es in on a character’s most intimate thoughts one moment and pans out to drone-like vistas the next. Like Morrison in Beloved, Saunders pulls back to panoramic historical refrains that add context. The narration functions as an offstage voice unobtrusively directing the reader’s attention ... jumps in time, which occur throughout the novel, are often illuminating, but several...feel out of step with the book’s subtlety ... We leave this tender and arresting novel asking ourselves where the cruelty of the sort depicted in 'The Lottery' exists in our lives, and whom we have sacrificed in pursuit of a better harvest.