During the holiday season, many of us will be heading back to a place we think of as home. Orly Konig’s debut novel shows us that, no matter how many miles you’ve put between you and your formative experiences, they’ll still beg for attention when you reach that heart-tugging, familiar turf—and maturity may not be enough to counter returning feelings of awkwardness.
Emma Metz isn’t necessarily interested in nostalgia. She’s all business these days, and plans a quick return to put her deceased father’s affairs in order. But as if of its own accord, the wheel of her rental car turns in at Jumping Frog Farm, where secrets and old wounds rise to greet her.
The home world of this story is in rural Maryland. At one edge of the setting was the house where Emma lived with her parents, whose confusing expectations she wanted to escape. At the other end is the horse barn she wanted to escape to, for it was there that she first experienced unconditional support and acceptance, from animals and humans alike. In between are the dark woods, both physical and psychological, through which Emma must run to get from one to the other.
The story is told in two timelines. Like many young professionals, Emma has set aside personal satisfaction and peace of mind to try to get ahead. Modern-day connectivity allows Emma’s overachieving boss in Chicago to assault her with emails at any hour of the day, and her need to stay on top of things and prove her worth has her answering. He devalues her deepening respect for her family’s newly uncovered challenges by calling her trip to handle the exhausting tasks of death as “her vacation.”
The backstory thread, to which any horse-addled girl might relate, explores her father’s high expectations, the obtuse nature of her mother’s poor health, and Emma’s desire to do something that speaks to her own soul. A mutual love of horses bonds her to Jilli, the granddaughter of the barn’s owners, and they are inseparable—at least until an accident exposes the cracks in their relationship and forever changes it.
Fireworks ensue when past meets present. Jilli gives Emma a cold shoulder, causing Emma to re-evaluate the ties that bound them, along with other important life decisions she made without full knowledge of her family’s circumstances.
This would be a perfect pick for a mother-daughter book club. The story explores the nature of familial intimacy—what parents can and can’t discuss with our children—and provides plenty of fodder for discussing the work-life balance and the importance of finding a way to honor our passions to make life worth living.
Despite these serious themes, The Distance Home is a quick read, but fair warning: the day after I finished reading it, I daydreamed about moving to rural Maryland, hacking into the hills on the back of a horse, and not coming back for a good long while.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR