WRITING BACKGROUND: Saunders is a graduate of the Syracuse University Creative Writing Program, where she studied with Tobias Wolff and Douglas Unger, and a recipient of the prestigious Albert Schweitzer Fellowship in the Humanities at the State University of New York at Albany, under then-Schweitzer Chair, Toni Morrison.
UNIQUE SETTING AND BACKSTORY: This novel explores the landscape and culture of rural, 1960s South Dakota and the Great Plains, a setting not commonly encountered in contemporary literature. It draws on Saunders’ family history—both her father and her grandfather were independent cattle brokers and her mother a homemaker who then became a dance instructor. Saunders left home at 15 to study ballet, eventually moving to New York City where she danced as an apprentice with the Harkness Ballet, under renowned ballet master David Howard.
“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
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