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Paula Saunders: The Distance Home

Listen to Paula Saunders: The Distance Home

Photograph of Michael Williams and Paula Saunders

Michael Williams and Paula Saunders at the Wheeler Centre

Paula Saunders has described her debut novel, The Distance Home, as a 'completely American story.' Especially, she says, because 'it's a story of division – of the haves and have-nots, the accepted and rejected.'

'Children really do have insight … they have the feeling of what's fair and what's not fair, and how things might play out – and especially what the hurt might be that can be carried forward from an event.'

The Distance Home is a novel of the Midwest – a tale of ambition, aggression and family faultlines – and it was one of the strongest US debuts of 2018. Praised by the likes of Jennifer Egan and Michael Cunningham, and positively reviewed in the New York Times, it's a family epic that explores a pervasive and destructive obsession with success and failure. The book draws on Saunders's own early life in rural South Dakota and her experiences as a gifted ballet dancer. It tells the story of young sibling dancers in Rapid City in the 1960s and their efforts to move beyond the sometimes corrosive influence of their parents.

Saunders's novel squares up to the big existential questions – how are we shaped by our parents, our culture and our place in history and geography? – and searches for answers with compassion, sensitivity and insight.

As part of our Mayhem series, she joins Michael Williams to talk American dreams and American dysfunction.

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