Chicago Tribune

A must-read Midwest novel, Paula Saunders reflects on 'The Distance Home'

Paula Saunders published "The Distance Home" to strong reviews last year, but it had percolated for decades. The book - a deeply resonant novel that explores the struggles of a Midwestern family - is autobiographical.

Saunders grew up in South Dakota, the daughter and granddaughter of cattle brokers. Her mother, a housewife, started a ballet school in her basement after her kids took classes from a former professional dancer.

The book's central themes revolve around the conflicts between Eve and Al, characters based on Saunders' parents, and their treatment of their three children - particularly Leon and Rene. Leon, based on Saunders' brother, is shy and clumsy, so Eve enrolls him in ballet classes as a child; Rene, who is based on the author, soon follows. Both children excel as dancers, but pay terrible costs. For Leon, it exacerbates a rift with his father, who thinks dance is unfitting for a boy; for Rene, it reinforces a competitive, confident streak that's delightful to her father but threatening to kids at

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