Saunders writes about Leon’s humiliation with a heartfelt intensity although always at one remove. We see the aftershocks in René’s fraught, but rewarding relationship with Eve, one of the most convincing portraits of a mother-daughter bond that I have read. This isn’t a novel rich in incident, but it’s generous, humane and it lingers. Saunders knows all about darkness — but she holds on to the light.
Set in South Dakota in the 1960s, this evocative, moving and deeply immersive novel follows an average family torn apart by expectation... There is an undeniable beauty to this epic portrayal of the complex and intimate nature of human relationships - well worth a read.
Saunders’s emotional dissection of an averagely dysfunctional family follows the diverging fortunes of Rene and Leon...Saunders, the wife of Man Booker-winner George, risks overloading her debut thematically by making Leon slightly Native American, with some distant genes resurfacing, but she underlines the sheer unfairness of life with a neatly worked-in reference to Shirley Jackson’s classic short story The Lottery.
This is a very American novel. Not only in its setting at “the geographical centre of the U S of A”, its landscape and harsh climate exquisitely rendered by Saunders in long, perfect sentences, but also in the family’s upward trajectory. Even as Al and Eve are emotionally scarring their children, they’re also working hard for them. The promise of ballet is the same: grit and graft will open doors. And it does: René makes it out of town, but the damage is already done, any hope of transcendence through dance long faded.