Cover image for The distance between
The distance between
Osborne, Eliza, 1946-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Soho Press, 2000.
Physical Description:
212 pages ; 22 cm
Format :


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Mattie Welsh has had a phone call from her sister: her parents have been in a serious automobile accident. She lives in Massachusetts, about a day's drive from the small Pennsylvania town where the family still resides. She leaves her husband and two sons to drive home. Alone, she falls prey to unexpected events and surprising fears. Along the way Mattie meets a number of mothers and daughters: a pregnant hitchhiker on the verge of hysteria, a bartender and her two daughters, and a self-possessed lost child. It is a journey in preparation for the confrontation that awaits her when she reaches her destination.With tenderness and humor, Eliza Osborne captures the complicated feelings that daughters and mothers have for one another, and the fears one faces upon the loss of a parent. It is a moving and often funny story that is as human and unpredictable as life itself.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

In her debut novel, Osborne proves that even the smallest epiphanies can have the widest of reverberations. Mattie Welsh receives a call from her sister that their parents have been in a terrible car accident. She leaves her husband and small sons to see about her parents and crosses into a twilight zone. In language that is spare but enlivened with flashes of purely joyful writing, Osborne explores the relationships between mothers and daughters during the two-day road trip that covers more than 30 years of the closest and most troubling of relationships. Mattie is trying to get home to her mother, whom she both loves and hates, a woman who both gave and ruined her life. In Osborne's world, home is less a physical destination than an emotional reckoning. During the drive, Mattie meets pairs of mothers and daughters (and one son) and briefly visits their relationships as she finds her way home. Osborne has the gift of revealing the commonplace in the most uncommon of ways and brings new insights into concepts we all thought we completely understood. --Neal Wyatt

Publisher's Weekly Review

The heroine of this meditative debut novel spends a long drive from Massachusetts to her home state of Pennsylvania puzzling over, and coming to terms with, her complicated relationship with her mother. The trip is occasioned by the news that Mattie Welsh's parents have been seriously injured in a car accident, and Mattie, a middle-aged mother of two, embarks on many detours that transform her perspective on how her relationship with her mother came to be "estranged and entangled all at the same time." Mattie first picks up a pregnant hitchhiker who goes into labor while escaping a family reunion. At the hospital, lingering until the girl's own brash and critical mother arrives, Mattie visualizes how a free-spirited youngster turns into a reluctant parent. After calling her sister from the road and learning that their mother has died, Mattie makes another detour, volunteering to chauffeur a mother and daughter to the airport to pick up a second daughter, while eagerly looking for answers to her own troubling questions in the three women's tales of resentment and rivalry. Later, in the novel's most moving and illuminating encounter, Mattie leaves a rest stop shocked to find a little girl sleeping in her back seat. The families in this book are troubled, damaged and ordinary: Mattie's mother rages, but also nurtures, while Mattie's sister, Nancy, manipulates but also supports. The power of this quiet narrative lies not in dramatic revelations, but rather in the layers of emotion and understanding gradually revealed. A keen observer of gestures and detailed interpreter of loaded silences, Osborne emulates Ann Tyler in dissecting domestic relations, creating sharply drawn, quirky yet familiar female characters struggling to learn from the contradictions of their lives. She strikes a resonant emotional chord in her honest examination of the painful injustices and thwarted expectations thriving between, and dividing, mothers and daughters. Regional author tour. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

For Mattie Welsh, the emotional distance between herself and her mother is a gap of miscommunication, lost opportunities, and unhappy choices. When Mattie's sister calls to tell her that their parents have been in a car accident, Mattie embarks on a double journey--a 400-mile drive, filled with detours and odd encounters, and a parallel, mental sojourn over past hurts and hopes. Most of Mattie's on-the-road meetings are with mothers and daughters who are playing out their own versions of emotional distances. With less subtle treatment, this theme could easily have resulted in cardboard characters and a one-note plot. But in this first novel, Osborne creates characters who are at once fragile and angry, giving and distant, and lovable and unlikable. There are no simple answers, and Mattie's arrival home is clearly just another stop on a longer journey. Highly recommended for public libraries and women's studies collections.--Jan Blodgett, Davidson Coll. Lib., NC (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.