Picador has acquired a "funny and tragic" debut novel about 1960’s rural America by Paula Saunders, the wife of Man Booker Prize-winning George Saunders.
Senior commissioning editor Sophie Jonathan bought UK and commonwealth rights to The Distance Home from Lucy Luck at C+W on behalf of Esther Newberg and Zoe Sandler of the New York-based ICM. It will be published in January 2019 in the UK while Random House in the US will publish it in summer 2018, after being acquired by executive editor Andrea Walker.
The book follows two siblings “growing up in a place of love and turmoil” in rural 1960’s America. Rene is the apple of her father’s eye as an over-achiever, athletic, clever, the best brain in class, and the best dancer in school, according to the book's blurb. Her older brother Leon is doted on by his mother but is shy, a stutterer, whilst being a brilliant dancer. Rene and Leon share a talent, but “it is a gift their father adores in his daughter, and loathes in his son” meaning that “life promises to take them down very different paths”.
With the work, Saunders revealed she wanted to explore the “aggression at the core of American culture”.
A Picador spokesperson said: “The Distance Home is the story of two children growing up side by side - the one given opportunities the other just misses - and the fall-out in their adult lives. Funny and tragic, both intimate and universal, [it] is about how our parents shape the adults we become.”
Jonathan described the debut as “a gorgeous novel, lovingly told - a narrative that sings with kindness and sadness, and a book of wonderful perceptiveness”.
She said: “When Lucy sent the manuscript I simply couldn't put it down. Paula's prose draws you close to her characters and the issues they face, and I have found myself totally captivated by them. As a novel about how our childhood dictates our future, The Distance Home has an important message.”
She added: “This is a read-it-and-pass-it-on book, one that deserves to be discussed, praised and recommended with passion, and I cannot wait to bring Paula’s writing to UK readers.”
Saunders, who grew up in South Dakota, said: “Though it’s based mainly on my experience of growing up in the Midwest, in The Distance Home I wanted to look at the seeds of what I see as the aggression at the core of American culture. For me, allegiance to the dualistic framework of success and failure, winning and losing, which we acquire early in our family lives, leads us inevitably into various problems with empathy and caring for one another.”
She added she was “thrilled” Picador will be publishing it for the UK market.
Saunders is a graduate of the Syracuse University creative writing program in New York and was awarded a postgraduate Albert Schweitzer Fellowship in the Humanities at the State University of New York at Albany, under then-Schweitzer Chair, Toni Morrison. She lives in California with her husband, the author George Saunders who won the Man Booker prize for Lincoln in the Bardo (Bloomsbury) in October 2017. He has written nine other books, including Tenth of December (Bloomsbury) which was a finalist for the National Book Award and won the inaugural Folio Prize (for best work of fiction in English) and the Story Prize (best short-story collection). The pair have two daughters.