From the author of Summer Snow—a suspenseful, breathtaking novel about true love, starting over, and finding the truth…at all costs.
How long do you hold on to hope?
Danica Greene has always hated flying, so it was almost laughable that the boy of her dreams was a pilot. She married him anyway and together, she and Etsell settled into a life where love really did seem to conquer all. Danica is firmly rooted on the ground in Blackhawk, the small town in northern Iowa where they grew up, and the wide slashes of sky that stretch endlessly across the prairie seem more than enough for Etsell. But when the opportunity to spend three weeks in Alaska helping a pilot friend presents itself, Etsell accepts and their idyllic world is turned upside down. It’s his dream, he reveals, and Danica knows that she can’t stand in the way. Ell is on his last flight before heading home when his plane mysteriously vanishes shortly after takeoff, leaving Danica in a free fall. Etsell is gone, but what exactly does gone mean? Is she a widow? An abandoned wife? Or will Etsell find his way home to her? Danica is forced to search for the truth in her marriage and treks to Alaska to grapple with the unanswerable questions about her husband’s mysterious disappearance. But when she learns that Ell wasn’t flying alone and that a woman is missing, too, the bits and pieces of the careful life that she had constructed for them in Iowa take to the wind. A story of love and loss, and ultimately starting over, Far From Here explores the dynamics of intimacy and the potentially devastating consequences of the little white lies we tell the ones we love.
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.90(d)|
About the Author
Nicole Baart is the mother of five children from four different countries. The cofounder of a non-profit organization, One Body One Hope, she lives in a small town in Iowa. She is the author of eight previous novels, including Little Broken Things and The Beautiful Daughters. Learn more at NicoleBaart.com.
Read an Excerpt
Far from Here
They brought things.
Like hopeful penitents or sojourners making the pilgrimage to a holy land filled with story and sorrow, they arrived with gifts. Most offerings were cradled by careful hands, and delivered with the sort of ceremony and circumstance usually reserved for sacraments. Even the serving plates were chosen with intention, exquisite and rarely used pieces that had obviously been rescued from corner curios and china cabinets. Rescued and washed clean, soap and water removing the accumulated dust of weeks or months. Sometimes years.
Dani accepted an oblong, curved platter adorned with impossibly tiny, hand-painted flowers. The artful, black-hearted pansies were dwarfed by still-warm squares of generous walnut brownies, stacked like soft bricks in a fragrant monument to her grief. And there was a stew in a fat soup tureen, a lidded, porcelain rarity that seemed to glow with the almost heady scent of beef roast and caramelized onions. It was thick and unnatural for a warm May day, and Dani held her breath when she placed it on the counter next to the small army of dinnerware that had begun to amass beneath her painted cabinets. Casseroles and baskets of store-bought fruit and cookies, cups of café au lait with heavy cream and raw sugar, just the way she liked it. If she was really lucky, or if her mom came, the caffeine fix was laced with a shot or two of something stronger. But even the Irish coffee was a waste.
People brought things because they didn’t know what else to do. Somewhere, below the tingling numbness that trembled against her skin, Dani knew they were trying, and she returned the favor with a reluctant grace, welcoming each well-meaning act of charity with heavy, outstretched arms. She assured every visitor that their gift was perfect. Just what she needed. The only thing she could bring herself to taste. How did you know?
The truth was, she didn’t want their food or their condolences. After they left, she upended the brownies into the garbage can, abandoning the stack of fudgy sweets to the cupboard under the sink, where they made her entire kitchen smell like a confectionary. With a long-handled spoon, she ladled the hot stew into the garbage disposal. Chunks of potatoes and whole baby carrots and bits of barley floated in the sink like putrid, autumn confetti until she flipped the wall switch and ground it into a sludgy paste that oozed down the drain. It was all she could do not to vomit.
They were an insult, all those filled plates, those ridiculous portions of food and drink. As if she could eat. As if a chicken-broccoli casserole could fill the space where he was supposed to be.
Nothing could touch it.
No amount of filling could ease the echoing ache of the fissure that had split open her heart, her very life, ripped it straight down the middle so that she knew what it was like to fall to pieces. You didn’t fall, not really. It wasn’t nearly so dramatic or drawn out. One word or two, just a few, and when the paralysis passed you looked down and realized that you were bleeding from a wound that would surely never heal. It didn’t hurt until you saw the blood, until you realized that you had been torn and what was taken from you could not be put back. Not without leaving a scar. Worse. There would be much more than a scar. She felt deformed. She knew she always would be.
Dani didn’t want another batch of oatmeal-raisin cookies. Or her friends, her sisters, her mother. Not even a funeral could give her closure. And in many ways she longed for exactly that. For the known.
Etsell wasn’t dead; he was gone.
That, Dani decided, was infinitely worse.
They brought small sacrifices to the altar of her mourning, but the only oblation Dani accepted was the one that Benjamin offered.
He knocked on her door the day after she got the call, almost exactly forty-eight hours after Etsell’s plane went missing from the tiny airport in Seward, Alaska. Dani was furious at first because her reclusive neighbor was knocking on her back door, the whitewashed, creaking screen that opened on a little kitchen garden where nothing much deigned to grow. It was her private entrance and her secret escape, the passage through which she quietly ducked when the front doorbell rang with the insistent sound of sympathy that she longed to ignore. But her rage was rash and unfounded, it fizzled out as quickly as it flared, and Dani was left feeling bereft of emotion, of even the will to stand up and answer the door.
At first she tried to pretend that she wasn’t at home. She was sitting at the small breakfast table in the kitchen, a round-topped relic that she had refinished in black lacquer with a rubbed metallic glaze. Her hands were on the soft-ridged surface, her fingers following the almost imperceptible dips and whorls that traced the path of the rag she had used to polish the dark wood after she had sanded the corners and blown away the sawdust with her own pursed lips. Etsell had laughed as she labored over the table. He didn’t understand the almost sensual way she swept circles over the new, glossy paint or why her eyes narrowed to focus on every detail in the old tabletop.
“It’s nothing special,” he told her for the hundredth time. “It was cheap when your grandma bought it, and it’s no heirloom now.”
“I love the shape,” Dani muttered, barely registering that he was trying to provoke her. It was good-natured, it always was, and she wasn’t in the mood. The table was finally dry and she was lost in the art of unearthing hints of the original wood grain beneath.
“Oh, I know.” Etsell moved behind her, formed himself to her body as she bent over the smooth surface with a sheet of three-hundred-grit sandpaper clutched in her hand. “You like the legs,” he murmured against her neck. “The twisting lines. The old-world carved details and . . .”
“Ball feet,” she supplied in a whisper. The sandpaper was already slipping from her fingers.
“Ball feet,” he echoed. “And you’re finishing it . . . Art Deco?”
“With a French Provincial slant,” Dani agreed, shrugging a little so that the warm skin at the curve between her shoulder and neck rose to meet his lips. His breath was hot, and she stifled a shiver as he parted the curtain of her hair and spilled kisses against the hidden places beneath.
“I love it when you talk furniture to me.” Etsell’s voice was low and husky, and Dani couldn’t help but giggle.
She spun in his arms, ready to push him away and get back to the task at hand, but he caught her around the waist and lifted her onto the table. “I have work to do,” Dani protested, but Etsell was already lowering her, laying her back so that the strawberry spill of her long hair shone like burnished gold against the obsidian wood. She didn’t fight him. Didn’t want to.
When Benjamin knocked, and an instant later when he unnecessarily announced his presence through the open screen, Dani was remembering the afternoon that Etsell proved he listened to every word she said. As he slid her T-shirt over her head, he whispered about the expeditionary decor of the corner bedroom that she had turned into an exotic library retreat with splashes of wicker, bamboo, and an oversized leather chair accented by tarnished brass rivets. And the way she married a more masculine Mission style with shabby chic touches in their tiny master bedroom. The vertical slats of the well-balanced bed were softened by chenille pillows done in snowfall whites and subtle, minty greens that gave off such an impression of newness that the room felt cool and fresh even in the middle of a Midwestern July.
As his hands spanned her waist, Dani realized for the first time that Etsell listened. He knew her, even though he teased her about furniture restorations and groaned when she insisted on hemming curtains while he watched Monday Night Football. Of course she knew her husband loved her, but the understanding that he heard every word she said nearly choked her as she sat at the very table where he covered her body with his own. The words he whispered were more intimate even than the way he moved above her.
And Benjamin’s interruption of her solitary reverie was anything but welcome.
So she sat at the table and held her breath, hoping her backyard neighbor would go away. But he knocked again, and called again, using her given name and then one that made her face flush with heat as if the sun suddenly beat down on her cheeks.
“Danica? Mrs. Greene? Are you home?”
She pushed herself up from the table and crossed the kitchen in a few short strides. Though the door was hidden by the half wall where her refrigerator stood sentinel, Dani could see Benjamin nearly as soon as she stood. He filled the narrow doorway, his frame as long and gangly as the narrow pieces of white molding that encased the door. Though he wasn’t obscenely tall—all legs and arms and joints that seemed to turn in unusual directions—he did have to bend a little to peer inside the sagging screen of her door. He could have poked his nose through a tiny hole in the screen, Dani realized. It looked like he was about to.
“I’m home,” she told him unnecessarily. Her voice was gravelly and unused, and she cleared her throat quietly, ashamed of the evidence that she was alone. “Call me Dani. How many times have I told you to call me Dani?”
“Sorry. May I?” But he was already letting himself in.
She backed away, giving him space to enter her kitchen uninvited, and took stock of the man before her. In many ways, he was the antithesis of her Etsell. It was strange to be looking at Benjamin in the flesh while Etsell already seemed consigned to the mist and magic of her memory. The two men were night and day, light and dark, and seeing her neighbor’s wiry frame only made Dani long for the sturdy breadth of her husband’s arms.
Benjamin gave his head a little tilt to let his dark hair fall back from his forehead, and offered Dani a slow, measured smile. It surprised her because it didn’t seem to Dani that he smiled often, and when he did his straight, white teeth were overshadowed by a neat goatee. It was the sort of carefully groomed mustache and small, pointed beard that were so carefully maintained they looked more like accessories than a part of his facial structure. Much about Benjamin seemed deliberate, and he gave off a faint, esoteric vibe as if he was a brooding poet or maybe a tortured artist. He made Dani feel a bit nervous, he always had. At least, she realized as she studied his charcoal pants and long-sleeved dress shirt, he wasn’t wearing his clerical collar. The top two buttons of his shirt were undone and the only thing that adorned his bare neck was the exaggerated line of his collarbone.
They stood there for a moment, just staring at each other. Dani always expected Benjamin to be smooth, the sort of confident, easy-talking pastor who had populated the darkened spiritual corridors of her youth. But the man who lived in the blue bungalow across her backyard didn’t fit any stereotypes. In fact, whenever she saw him in his starched, white collar, it seemed mildly offensive to her, as if he were wearing a Halloween costume out of season.
Benjamin shuffled his feet against the stained linoleum of her kitchen floor, and all at once Dani dredged up manners from somewhere deep in her wounded mind. She opened her mouth to offer him something to drink, but before she could utter a word he took a step toward her and thrust out his hands. Her eyes fell to the span of his long fingers, surprised that she hadn’t even noticed that he was carrying something.
“I didn’t know what to bring,” Benjamin said in the same slow, calculated way he said everything. “So I brought asparagus.”
It was true. He cradled a thick bundle of fresh-picked spears, the grape clusters of their smooth heads so plump and tight, Dani was sure that she could catch the faintest whiff of the ground from which they came. The stalks were slender and even, the color a crisp balance between olive and moss.
“Where did you find them?”
The corner of Benjamin’s lip pulled up conspiratorially when he said, “I have a spot.”
Nearly everyone in the small Iowa town of Blackhawk had a spot, and each one was a secret that was carefully guarded and maintained. When the asparagus grew wild in the ditches every spring, people took to the roads and combed the deep grasses for the treasures that lay hidden beneath. Sometimes a lucky hunter would stumble across a trove, but usually finding the sweet spots took patience and planning. Of course, later in the summer, when the plants had gone to seed it was easy to spot where asparagus had grown. Soft-tufted bushes blew like banners in the breeze announcing every missed opportunity. But finding them back in the spring was a challenge, the sort of undertaking that required forethought and planning, surreptitious groundwork that would not come to fruition for many long months while northwest Iowa lay blanketed in snow.
Benjamin’s stoic forbearance had obviously paid off because this was the first of the asparagus that Dani had seen. It made her mouth water.
“There was a gentleman in my church who paid his hired hands to dig up the asparagus plants on his property,” Benjamin said when her silence stretched on uninterrupted. He seemed nervous, anxious to fill the space between them with words, even if they were meaningless. Dani forced herself to look at her earnest neighbor. “Why would he do that?”
“He was sick of people harvesting in his ditch.”
“My grandfather once chopped down an apple tree because kids kept taking the fruit it cast off,” Dani responded without thinking.
Benjamin’s eyebrows lifted in wonder. “Imagine that.”
“Is that where you got these?” Dani made herself reach for the asparagus.
“What do you mean?”
“From the guy in your church who dug up the plants.”
“No,” Benjamin turned over his hands and emptied the cool stalks into Dani’s palms. “These were a surprise. A gift.”
She turned her gaze to the long lines of the vegetables in her palms, and felt a prickle of wonder at the heft of the bundle, the weight of the spears that seemed too willowy to weigh much more than air. “Thank you,” she muttered. And for the first time since people began showing up at her door, she meant it.
Benjamin didn’t say anything, but Dani looked up in time to see him nod his acknowledgment. He was already leaving, his hand on the door, and though she was grateful to see him go, Dani felt a pang of loneliness stab through her like a subtle knife. Of course, Etsell wouldn’t have been coming home tonight anyway, but just knowing that he couldn’t, that he was somewhere off the known map, made her feel like she was the last person living in a hollow, futile world.
“Thank you,” she said again.
Benjamin responded by closing the screen door with a gentle click.
It was enough. The sound of the latch falling home, the unexpected kindness of a relative stranger, the evidence of life in her hands. When the first sob wracked Dani, she went weak in the knees and sank to the kitchen floor. Gone, her low moans seemed to whisper. Gone. But that wasn’t true, it wasn’t for sure. Not yet.
The Civil Air Patrol had told her that Etsell could very well be making his way back to Seward even as they sent out helicopters to search for him. Planes went down slowly sometimes, they landed in meadows or on the sides of mountains that seemed too craggy for even sure-footed goats. And his emergency transmitter could have been low on batteries or disabled during a bumpy touchdown. There was hope. There was always hope.
Dani didn’t feel very hopeful.
But when her tears stopped, when the heaving of her chest became nothing more than the slow shudder of her spent fears, she saw the detritus of green around her and felt a longing so deep it made her shiver. She had dropped the asparagus when she fell, and the stalks lay in geometric designs in her lap and over the cold, gray linoleum of her floor. They made a strange puzzle of discarded produce, clean and new and freshly plucked from the unknowing ground, waiting to be devoured like little promises.
Dani picked one from the pile on her thigh and snapped off the woody end. The spear was delicate, impossibly thin, and she put it to her lips. It was cool and firm, it crunched beneath her teeth with an unexpected juicy pop. She ate it quickly, grabbing the next before she had swallowed the first. It soothed her somehow, Benjamin’s gift, and she feasted on his offering until her stomach hurt.
In the absence of all that mattered, it felt good to be filled with something.
Hazel told me that Etsell wanted to be a pilot from almost the moment he heard that his mother had died.
“Have you heard of the song ‘I’ll Fly Away’?”
Of course I had. But instead of justifying her question with a response, I blew a bubble with the watermelon gum I was chewing. It popped against my lips and I had to pick the sticky, pink mess off with my fingertips. I was nineteen. Engaged to the man she considered her son.
“I think that’s what he wanted to do,” Hazel continued, seemingly unperturbed by my obvious disinterest. “To just fly away, far from here, from every reminder of her.”
“He had his dad,” I reminded her. “It’s not like he was completely alone.”
Hazel pursed her lips and slid me a reproving look. “Dani, honey, you’re young, but you’re not stupid. At least, I didn’t take you for stupid. Owen Greene was a sorry drunk. There wasn’t a mean bone in his body, but he loved the bottle more than he loved his son, and that’s a fact. Etsell lost everything when he lost his mom.”
Except me, I thought, remembering the first time that he looked my way with eyes so full of intent I didn’t have to wonder if he wanted me or not. Love would come later, I reasoned, giving in to daydreams as my naive idealism painted pictures of our future together. They were watercolor soft, an impressionist fantasy. How could they not be? Etsell was beautiful. A dark, tortured soul hidden beneath the guise of a handsome, small-town co-ed—the very epitome of every romantic stereotype and cliché.
“Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad he has you,” Hazel said. Her words startled me. Had I spoken aloud?
I nodded, assured of my own value in Etsell’s world.
“It’s just a tough situation all around. I think Ell reminds Owen of her too much. Or maybe not enough.”
Etsell’s father might have been a raging alcoholic, but his illness was a sort of slow suicide. He tried to make sure that he was the only one affected by his addiction, but no action can exist in a vacuum, and Ell grew up in a home that reeked of sorrow and booze. I should have been furious with the man who failed at raising my soon-to-be husband, but it was almost impossible to hate someone as broken as Owen. He was the sort of simple soul that was afforded but one love in life, and his heart belonged exclusively to his dead wife.
I never met Miss Melanie, but she was ubiquitous in Blackhawk, a part of local legend and lore. Everyone called her Miss Melanie because she taught a generation of second graders at the elementary school before she was miraculously blessed with a child of her own. I’m told Etsell was born a charmer, a prince who stole his mother’s heart the very moment she first caught a glimpse of his sweet baby fist. But the tiny curl of his chubby hand was the only thing she saw for quite a while, because immediately after delivery Miss Melanie had an eclampsia-induced seizure and slipped into a coma for almost three days.
Owen didn’t blame Etsell, not exactly, but apparently he wasn’t much of a father even after Miss Melanie recovered. He was too old, too set in his ways, too comfortable in the life that he had spent a quarter of a century perfecting with his wife. When she was killed, they might as well have buried him with her. He would have preferred it that way.
Hazel sighed heavily and put her hands on her hips with a sort of finality. “I’m glad he has you,” she repeated. “But as much as you hate to hear it, you’re just a little girl.”
I nearly swallowed my gum in a gasp of indignation. Little girl? Etsell and I had been together for three years—a lifetime—and we had weathered much as one. I considered myself his bride, body and spirit, even then. But before I could assure my fiancé’s surrogate mom that I was a woman, she gave my shoulder a hard squeeze and walked with purpose out of the hangar. It was only then I realized that Etsell was coming in for a landing, the wings of his aircraft mimicking the perfect plane of the horizon beneath him.
Owen Greene was undeniably lost in a world of his own wretched design, but he had the sense to buy his only son an airplane for his fifteenth birthday. Of course, it was a rusted hunk of junk, and of course, Etsell couldn’t fly it alone. But he loved it with the sort of passion some boys reserve for cars or sports or girls. By the time he celebrated fifteen years of life, he had already logged thirty hours with a flight instructor and was well on his way to receiving his student certificate. In just one more year he officially claimed the status of student pilot, and when he turned seventeen he held his very own pilot’s license.
I met Etsell the week after he took his pilot’s exam and passed the medical evaluation, the final check ride, and the FAA written test without a single definable mistake or insufficiency. He wanted to take me up in his plane. I refused, but he asked me out anyway.
One Friday night in early fall, we went to Pizza Hut and devoured a medium pan-crust supreme. Afterward, when Etsell took me to Blackhawk’s tiny airport under the cloak of a deepening night, I let him hold me against the corrugated metal side of the hangar and kiss me until I didn’t know where he stopped and I started.
It was the beginning of everything. The moment when we breathed into each other and the rest of our lives sprang forth like a new bud, filled with the potential of all that we could be. At the very genesis of our relationship, we made an unspoken covenant, the sort of binding commitment that lashed his broken heart to mine as if pressing the hurt against my wholeness could only result in healing. He leaned into me and I let him come, wounded child, lover of air and sky, things above.
I was his ground.
“I want to be a bush pilot,” Etsell told me after I had officially accepted his proposal. It seemed a difficult admission for him, the sort of confession that ranked up there with a full disclosure of infidelity. He was studying the way our hands twined together, the interlocking weave of his thick fingers twisted through mine. But when I didn’t answer immediately he looked up, eyes the color of slate-rimmed sky hidden beneath dark lashes, and gave me a crooked, hopeful smile.
“I know,” I said.
His brow wrinkled in confusion.
“Hazel.” Her name was clarification enough.
“And you’re not mad?”
“Would you . . . ? Could you see yourself living in Alaska?”
No. Land of the Midnight Sun, of glacier fields and boundless, uncharted territories. Bears. Moose chewed on geraniums in suburban backyards. I had seen the pictures. And I had read the employment guide that Etsell had downloaded from the Alaska Pilot Exchange and conveniently left on the table in his father’s immaculate galley kitchen.
The front page of the hefty booklet declared ALASKA BUSH PILOT in bold capitals and featured an uninspired photograph of a float plane in front of a dreary hangar. It made me depressed just to look at it. But I read it anyway because he left it for me to find, and because I wanted to know what I would face as his bride.
It was a terrifying document. After a brief introduction in which the authors explained that some people believed the dangerous days of the bush pilot were relegated to history, they went on to disprove such comforting notions. Modern technology aside, they cited extremely adverse weather conditions, unpredictable hazards, and the need for dead reckoning when equipment failed. I knew that Etsell often flew by wind triangle when he had a route memorized by heart, but the thought of blind navigation over thousands of square miles of mountains and water and tundra filled me with a quiet dread like thick sediment seeping into the spaces between my bones. It was a helpless feeling, the sort of realization that made me certain my future would be shadowy and unpredictable.
I pictured myself a frontier wife, a woman lined with years and worry, clad in steel-toed boots and red flannel. She was almost unrecognizable, the woman I had become, and her eyes were bleak and haunted as she searched the blackened sky for a flight that would never make it home.
But I couldn’t say any of that to Etsell. He was looking at me with his lips slightly parted, his gaze hesitant and hopeful, as if I held the key to his happiness in the palm of my hand. He was a child to me, unruly and impetuous, but desperate for my approval all the same. For the soft touch of my validation.
“Why Alaska?” I asked.
Etsell opened his mouth and closed it. Let a stunned breath escape from between his lips. “Because,” he murmured. He seemed confused, distracted, like he didn’t know how to explain the feel of the wind on his skin to a fish. I was the fish.
“Because it’s Alaska, Dani,” he finally managed. “Because it’s vast and gorgeous and savage.”
I cringed a little, but he was too enamored with his subject matter to notice.
“It’s where pioneers belong, and entrepreneurs. And thrill-seekers, wanderers, adventurers . . .”
And little boys, I thought. Grown-up little boys with broken hearts.
“We’ve got nothing tying us here,” Etsell whispered, unraveling his fingers from mine so that he could cup my face.
“My mother,” I reminded him. “Hazel. My sisters.”
“They’ll visit. We’ll take them salmon fishing.”
I could see him for just a moment, a man on the bank of one of the rivers I had read about online. The Kenai, the Yukon, the Koyukuk. The water was bottle-green and ice cold, and we were all lined up on either side of him like wings. Wings of women who would hold him up. Help him rise when he fell.
“Yes,” I whispered. But I wasn’t saying yes to Alaska, I was saying yes to him. I couldn’t cross my fingers as I stretched the meaning of my ambiguous answer, but I considered the long plait of my braided hair, the way my legs intersected at the ankle, the line of one wrist over the other.
I let him kiss me, and as his lips met mine I imagined the dross of every splintered vow anointing our heads like Arctic snow. They were white lies, inconsequential, nothing. But necessary all the same. It was part of the process of coming together, the way we dulled our sharp edges on each other, made promises we had no intent to keep.
We had done it before. Pretended we fit like the hollow of earth beneath a rock that had rested against the same dirt for centuries. Millennia. And when the raw truth of our differences felt harsh and uncompromising, we shifted positions, tried again. It wasn’t deceptive, not really. It was who we were.
Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for Far From Here includes discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Nicole Baart. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Why do you think the author chose to include a Prologue from Danica’s point of view about the first time Etsell took her flying? How did this opening set the tone for the rest of the novel?
2. The author uses an interesting point-of-view technique, alternating chapters from Danica’s first-person point of view with those from a more limited third-person point of view. What effect did this have on your reading experience?
3. Danica feels betrayed and upset when Etsell tells her about his three-week trip to Alaska. She accuses him of making an important decision they should have made together. He in turn accuses her of making all their decisions. Explain Danica’s reaction. Do you feel that she is justified? How accurate is Etsell’s complaint? Use examples from the novel to support your opinion.
4. On page 47, Benjamin tells Danica, “Never do what you should do,Dani. Do what you have to do.” What do you think he means by this? Do you agree or disagree?
5. Danica and Etsell may not have had much in common, but they both grew up with untraditional parenting. Compare and contrast the relationship Etsell has with Hazel (his “surrogate mother”) with the relationship between Danica and Charlene. Did Danica have a “surrogate mother”?
6. Danica describes her oldest sister as somewhat detached and cold. Natalie doesn’t come to visit Danica until Etsell has been missing for two months. Yet Danica is “convinced of her sister’s love, even if Natalie couldn’t bring herself to say it and didn’t know how to show it.” Do you think Danica understands her loved ones and forgives them for their faults, or does she just have a lifelong history of making excuses for everyone around her? Explain your opinion.
7. Who did you suspect was at the door on page 235? Were you surprised at Sam’s news? Why or why not?
8. Danica asks her neighbor Ben—a pastor—why in all his visits he’s never mentioned God. “I have,” he says. “In lots of different ways” (page 312). What do you think he means? Identify and discuss what some of these “different ways” might be.
9. Danica’s older sister Natalie tells Danica, “We fail each other. Every day in a million different ways” (page 224). Does Danica agree? Do you? Why or why not?
10. When Danica finally tells her whole family about the baby, everyone seems divided on what she should do. Hazel and Char seem to think it would only hurt Danica in the long run to have such a reminder in her life, whereas Kat seems to feel the baby belongs more with Danica than with a stranger. What would you do in her shoes?
11. Unlike most widows, Danica is never delivered a body or even true confirmation of Etsell’s death. Identify and discuss some of the ways in which she attempts to move on with her life. What finally marks a true shift for her toward healing? How does she find closure?
12. At the end of the book, Danica wrestles with whether or not she should adopt Etsell and Sam’s child. In the Epilogue, she is definitely mothering an infant. Whose baby is it? Etsell and Sam’s? Or Danica and Benjamin’s? Use clues from the text and your own understanding of Dani’s growth throughout the book to make a case for the scenario you believe is the most likely.
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Sam’s unexpected visit interrupts a game of canasta between Danica, her sisters, their mother, Hazel, and Ben. Try learning to play this popular card game from the 1940s with members of your book club.
2. Danica and Etsell often hike to the river and enjoy lazing around, their feet in the water. Bring a little of their world to life by holding your next book club meeting beside a local river or lake.
3. In the novel, Kat decides to mark Etsell’s passing from their lives in a very physical way, asking Danica to lop off her ponytail and give her a short new hairstyle. Many women mark major life changes by dramatically coloring or cutting their hair. If you’re feeling brave, why not experience the difference such a change can make in your life by visiting your favorite beautician and trying a totally new look?
A Conversation with Nicole Baart
You write a blog on your website, www.nicolebaart.com. What made you decide to start blogging, and how is it working for you?
I started blogging shortly after I signed my first publishing contract because I thought it was part and parcel of the whole writing gig. At first I felt silly and inadequate as I tried to come up with witty, interesting posts. Now I just write about whatever is on my mind. Sometimes I blog about my publishing experiences, but more often than not my posts are a place for me to think out loud about life, family, relationships . . . I even post recipes or snippets of funny conversations I have with my kids. It’s a pretty mixed bag, but I do love doing it
There’s a fantastic online community that I never knew existed until I started to blog.
Far from Here is your fifth novel. How has your writing process evolved since your first novel? What is the first thing you do when beginning a new book?
The first thing I do when I begin a new book is buy a brand-new package of my favorite pens and six legal pads of paper. When the notebooks are full, the book is done. That’s how I wrote my first book, and my process hasn’t changed much since then. I still write longhand and then transfer the book chapter-by-chapter to my computer. I’d say the biggest thing that has changed about my writing process is my approach to plotting. I used to just let the book evolve, but I like to have a pretty detailed outline to work from these days. Of course, that doesn’t mean I stick to it.
You include a lot of specific details in your novel, lending authenticity to your settings and characters. In particular, your description of Danica’s work in the salon and her restoration hobby, as well as her trip to faraway Alaska, come to mind. What kind of research did you do for this book?
My mother restored furniture when I was a little girl, and it’s something that has always interested me. I’m currently in the process of refinishing an old dining-room table for outdoor use by weatherproofing it and creating a mosaic tile pattern on the tabletop. It’s fun, but a bit overwhelming.
As for Danica’s experiences in Alaska, I knew I couldn’t accurately capture that atmosphere without going there myself. So Aaron and I flew up to Anchorage for five days. It was a whirlwind trip but we had an amazing time. We have friends who live in the area and they were very gracious tour guides, ferrying us from the Loussac Library to Seward and through countless little airports and hangars. I was even able to go up in a Cessna over Resurrection Bay. It is an experience I will never forget, and one that hugely impacted the way I wrote Far from Here.
Danica’s situation is complicated from the beginning and only gets more complex as the novel progresses. What inspired you to write this story?
They say life is stranger than fiction, and in this case it’s true. My dad’s best friend disappeared in a bush plane in northern Alaska and was never found. His story always haunted me, but as a grown woman I began to consider it from the perspective of the people left behind. How could you live not knowing? The unknown can be so scary, and I tried to imagine what it would be like to live with all the questions and what-ifs. Could a person find hope even in that? I’d like to think so.
This novel is set in Blackhawk, Iowa, which is described as a tiny, out-of-the-way town that time (almost) forgot. Is this a real place, or based on one? What was it like writing about a small town like the one you grew up in?
There is a little village not too far from my hometown that served as the inspiration for Blackhawk. It’s tucked next to a small river in a valley that cuts between acres of rolling hills and farmland. I’ve always loved it—especially the big, white bridge that spans the river as you enter the town. However, I took some serious creative license as I dreamed up Blackhawk. The fictional town is bigger and more picturesque. A perfect Anytown, USA.
As for writing about small towns, it just feels natural to me. I’ve lived in the city and on a farm, but I’m a small-town girl at heart. There is a very unique sense of community in a small town, an unspoken understanding that we are all family—even quirky great-aunt Mildred and the guy who talks to himself next door. Everyone fits somewhere in a small town, and I wanted that sort of close-knit community for Dani.
Though love is an important theme in this book, it’s anything but a typical love story. Through your characters, you explore how love and marriage can change over time—how careful we must be as their caretakers. At one point, Natalie seeks to comfort Danica by telling her, “We fail each other. Every day in a million different ways” (page 224). Do you think this is true? What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about marriage?
I do think that we fail each other, but I believe even more strongly what Dani muses shortly thereafter: “Sometimes we come through for one another. Sometimes we forgive” (page 225). The truth is, we are all very selfish beings. We try to put others first, but even in the relationships that mean the most to us, we often default to elevating our own wants and perceived needs above those of the people we love.
Love is a daily, sometimes hourly, choice. Even though we fail, we have to keep trying. It breaks my heart when I hear a version of the sentiment: I love him, but I’m not in love with him anymore. What does that mean? To me, it’s just a pretty way of saying: “I don’t feel like trying anymore.” That may sound harsh, but love is hard. It can be exhausting and frustrating and heartbreaking. But I’m a romantic at heart—I believe it is always worth fighting for. I tried to communicate that through the pages of Far from Here. In spite of their differences, and in spite of all that happened, Etsell and Dani kept fighting for each other. They forgave. And in the end, I think they both chose love, even though they stumbled and fell and could have spent the rest of their lives resenting each other. I think that is the single most important thing I’ve learned about marriage: Be gracious to one another. Always.
The issue of adoption comes up at the end of the book. You also have adopted a child. How did that experience influence your inclusion of this plot twist in Far from Here?
Adoption is very near and dear to my heart, even if it is a hotbutton topic in the world today. Some people will argue that children should remain within their context at any cost, and though I agree that the preservation of identity within a particular culture or society (even the culture of a specific community within the same state or country) is important, I believe that in an ideal world every child should experience the love of a family.
Sometimes that family isn’t going to look like a “normal” family. Sometimes that family might live across the country or even across the globe. It probably sounds idealistic, but I think that love really does have the power to overcome seemingly insurmountable hardships. I wanted to address that belief with Dani’s impossible question: Could she adopt the love child of her husband and a woman with whom he had a one-night stand? Could I? Could you? The answer is going to be different for everyone—and that’s okay—but that doesn’t change the fact that a living, breathing child is the result of Etsell and Sam’s “mistake.” A child who needs a home. Who needs the miracle of adoption.
Tell us a little about One Body One Hope, the nonprofit you co-founded.
One Body One Hope is a nonprofit organization that works alongside a church and orphanage in Monrovia, Liberia. My husband and I met the pastor of a Liberian congregation when we were in Ethiopia bringing home our son, and it was evident in the two weeks we spent together that we simply couldn’t walk away and pretend that our lives could go on as normal. The people of Liberia had imprinted themselves on our hearts in that short time, and we left Ethiopia with the promise to do anything we could to support our new friend and his struggling community.
One Body One Hope began with basic relief work—distributing rice to starving families and providing a monthly sponsorship program for the fifty-some children in the church-run orphanage. But we’ve moved past those fledgling efforts and are passionately
rehabilitation and development in both the orphanage and the greater community. Liberia is still experiencing the devastating effects of a bloody civil war, and the economy is very fragile. Eighty-five percent of Liberians are unemployed. We’d like to see that change. It is our goal to walk beside our Liberian friends and offer whatever assistance and support we can to help them rebuild their country—one family, one person, one community at a time.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A truly bittersweet story about one woman's journey through a difficult & unpredictable situation. An inspiring story about a woman named Danica who is forced to be strong & except reality even when life is rough & just keeps throwing her curve balls. This book hits so close to the reality of real life situations & the fact that sometimes you just never have all the answers your looking for. I was hoping for a different ending but this story will take you through many ups & downs as Danica struggles to hold herself together & as she fights to put her life back in order. This book is about love, marriage, lose, sadness, finding joy again, & so much more. I found it hard to put this book down, I wanted answers, I wanted to get to the end.
Danica Greene always hated flying, so it was almost laughable that the boy of her dreams was a pilot. She married him anyway, and together, she and Etsell settled into a life where love really did seem to conquer all. When opportunity to spend three weeks in Alaska helping a pilot friend presents itself, Etsell accepts and their idyllic world is turned upside down. It's hit dream, he reveals, and Danica knows that she can't stand in the way. Etsell is on his last flight before heading home when his plane vanishes shortly after takeoff, leaving Danice in a free fall. He's gone, but what exactly does gone mean? Is she a widow? An abandoned wife? Or will Estell find his way home to her? Forced to search for the truth in her marriage, Danica grapples with the impossible questions about her husband's mysterious disappearance. And when she learns that Ell wasn't flying alone, the bits and pieces of the careful life that she constructed for them take to the wind... I received Far From Here by Nicole Baart compliments of Howard Books, a division of Simon and Schuster for my honest review and found this story hard to comprehend. I don't know what I would do if my husband went missing, with no sign of a crash and no remains of a plane, just a big opened ended question much like what Danica is faced with in the book. Not quite knowing what to do or where to begin, she struggles with taking advice from her dysfunctional family who means well and from her surrogate mother-in-law who offers to help her get her life back on track by any means possible. There's even a kind pastor/neighbor who offers to get her mind off things by helping her maintain her lawn without bringing up her missing husband. This really hits home in so many ways because the struggle by Danica to figure out what to do is very real. She deals with how long does she wait before she must realize he isn't coming back, how does she cope with being alone, and how does she deal with the truth that her marriage wasn't all she thought it was. A very compelling read and one I could not put down until the final page was turned. A believable and well-written story about a tragic loss and how one woman will weather the storm. For that I rate this story a 5 out of 5 stars.
When Goodreads.com sent me a free copy of Far From Here: A Novel, written by Nicole Baart, I was really looking forward to reading it. The premise of the novel is one that is written from the perspective of someone who has been left behind when someone they care about turns into a missing case. Was the person lost or did the person leave and will he return? Will he be found? What caused him to go in the first place and what happened when he did?As someone who thrives on a good conspiracy theory, I know, I know, I should know better, but I do thrive on them, I couldn¿t wait to see what Nicole Baart¿s take on what it might be like to be in that uncomfortable position of loving someone and then having them disappear would look like. I tend to live vicariously through my books and would never, ever want to experience this firsthand, but I have frequently wondered about the people that just drop off the face of the earth. Did they choose it? Did something happen to them? Are they still there?With these questions in mind, I opened up the beautifully illustrated cover of Far From Here and settled down for a good read. Danica and Etsell have been married for the majority of their adult lives. Etsell is a passionate pilot and Danica is his flight-phobic support system. On the surface, their marriage is perfect, even after ten years, and though Danica cannot share Etsell¿s dream of flight, they begin to discuss having a family.Etsell takes a flight job for a friend and will be in Alaska for two weeks flying, which is his dream job. Etsell has always wanted to work there on a permanent basis but Danica is set in her feelings of staying where they have planted roots and avoiding flying at all costs. It is with this dissonance between them that Etsell leaves for his two week business trip.Danica focuses on his return until her doorbell rings and she gets the news that Etsell has gone missing. The remainder of the book, without giving anything away, is spent determining what has happened to him, if he meant to leave her, and exactly what was happening in their relationship when he left. Ultimately, Danica looks within herself and looks at how you can live with someone for ten years and never really know or understand them or yourself.Does Danica ever find out what happened to Etsell? Does he return? Did he mean to leave her? Far From Here is a book that kept me entertained and moving through it at a rapid pace. The writing was well done and the characters were dynamic. With every page turn I felt like I needed to know more. I wanted a neatly packaged ending, but we don¿t always get them in real life. Many books neglect the secondary characters and this book was an exception. The secondary characters in the novel are those that are used to show us who Danica truly is and they were not just thrown in there to add ¿filler¿ to the book. This was a nicely done book and I¿d honestly like to see a sequel to it, if for no other reason than to tidy up the ending and to find out what Danica chooses to do from here.
Real human characters you can relate to, beautiful moving story of life and hope.
Danica Greene always hated flying, so it was almost laughable that the boy of her dreams was a pilot. She married him anyway, and together, she and Etsell settled into a life where love really did seem to conquer all.When opportunity to spend three weeks in Alaska helping a pilot friend presents itself, Etsell accepts and their idyllic world is turned upside down. It's hit dream, he reveals, and Danica knows that she can't stand in the way. Etsell is on his last flight before heading home when his plane vanishes shortly after takeoff, leaving Danice in a free fall. He's gone, but what exactly does gone mean? Is she a widow? An abandoned wife? Or will Estell find his way home to her?Forced to search for the truth in her marriage, Danica grapples with the impossible questions about her husband's mysterious disappearance. And when she learns that Ell wasn't flying alone, the bits and pieces of the careful life that she constructed for them take to the wind...I received Far From Here by Nicole Baart compliments of Howard Books, a division of Simon and Schuster for my honest review and found this story hard to comprehend. I don't know what I would do if my husband went missing, with no sign of a crash and no remains of a plane, just a big opened ended question much like what Danica is faced with in the book. Not quite knowing what to do or where to begin, she struggles with taking advice from her dysfunctional family who means well and from her surrogate mother-in-law who offers to help her get her life back on track by any means possible. There's even a kind pastor/neighbor who offers to get her mind off things by helping her maintain her lawn without bringing up her missing husband.This really hits home in so many ways because the struggle by Danica to figure out what to do is very real. She deals with how long does she wait before she must realize he isn't coming back, how does she cope with being alone, and how does she deal with the truth that her marriage wasn't all she thought it was. A very compelling read and one I could not put down until the final page was turned. A believable and well-written story about a tragic loss and how one woman will weather the storm. For that I rate this story a 5 out of 5 stars.
Far From Hereby: Nicole BaartI won this book from Goodreads/First ReadsThis novel is about a couple, Dani and Etsell, who marry young and seem to have the perfect romance. He's a pilot and Dani has a fear of flying. Etsell gets an opertunity to make a trip flying to Alaska and ends up missing. After a week the search is called off and Dani is left to figure out the pieces of what she thought was her life.Dani makes a trip to Alaska herself after the search is called off to try to find answers for herself. This is where she learns that her husband may have had secrets she never knew about and her life may not have been as "perfect" as she may have believed. Dani has to try to come to terms with everything she learns and this book is about her jouney to do that.The author has added so much into this book. You get a real sense of her heartache and turmoil. The quirkiness of family. Some of the troubles from marrying so young, anger and disbelief of finding out your loved ones may not be what you have believed them to be. Baart really touches on the little details of a situation like this that could have easily been left out but really help you feel the pain of loss and confussion that you would be confronted with at a time like this.There are other questions that she has to figure out also. How soon to start a new relationship and even how some decisions effect others even after we're gone. This is a great read and one that I'd recommend highly. Great Book!
This is not the style of writing that I am used to. It is slow and eloquent. It is as if I am about to step into a body of freezing water but first I have to stop and admire the beauty that encompasses me. It is beautiful in an aching kind of way. At a quarter of the way through it feels as if I have spent half a lifetime with Dani and El. This is a beautifully written story about a heartbreak so deep and haunting you don¿t know whether to prepare yourself for a sad ending that was predicted from page one or to hold onto the irrational hope for a happy ending. I have made it through the entire and for a moment I was left speechless. It is all about how to go on when you don¿t know how to go on. Dani and El was entwind with each other¿s life that it seems that there wasn¿t life before they found each other. How do you make it through a loss so bitter and so bone-crushing deep? This is a story about heartache and loss, but mostly it¿s a story about surviving. I wasn¿t sure if I was holding out for the sad news that he¿s never coming back or for the good news that there was life after. I found myself holding my breath, holding out hope for Dani. Far From Here has everything in it: heart stopping action (though maybe it was just me being caught in the story. And it is a totally different type of action than most people would imagine), a love that transcends, betrayal, hope and a new beginning. It was beautiful. It was sad. It was uplifting. It was funny. It was so much more than I thought it would. The characters are well developed, I was able to imagine them in my head as I read along. More than that, they came to life. I know this is a work of fiction but I feel as if I know the characters and they have opened a window revealing their stumbling, dysfunctional, awkward and funny attempts at connecting to each other. The emotions were raw, real and almost tangible. To be honest, if I was in a bookstore and came across this book I would have picked it up and read the back cover. I would have opened it and read the first page. Then I would have set it back on its shelf and kept moving. Maybe I would have thought about it again if I read about it on a blog or something, if not this book would be totally forgotten. But that would have been a tremendous loss for me. I read everything, but this book would have sounded too fluffy to me, at least in the beginning. But I am glad that I have it, I am glad for the opportunity to step out of my norm to find out fluffy isn¿t the best description, rhythmic and soothing are a better fit. What a beautiful, beautiful book.This book was given to me free of charge in exchange for my honest review.
Danica Greene, the heroine of author Nicole Baart's compelling novel "Far From Here", was just sixteen when she met the man of her dreams. Three years later, she married him and together they built a life together, working around her fear of flying and his life as a pilot and flight instructor. When Danica's husband, Etsell, accepts an offer to help a friend and spend several weeks in Alaska, she is not pleased that she was not consulted in his decision. Shortly after takeoff on a test run, his plane vanishes, and Danica's life becomes a nightmarish emotional limbo. The news that Etsell was accompanied on the trip by another woman is unbearable and unfathomable. Was everything that Danica thought to be true about their lives simply her refusal to see things without blinders? Danica's struggle to cope with her crippling pain and personal doubt is intensified by interference of her highly dysfunctional family, the watchful eyes of her very small community, and her own reaction to the empathy offered by her neighbor, Ben. A bombshell revelation about Etsell's relationship with the other woman further complicates her fight to regain control of her existence. You can't read this story without placing yourself in Danica's shoes, feeling her pain and confusion, and rebelling against the cruelty of a fate unknown. This is the story of a remarkable woman whose inner strength and mental fortitude are tested in ways that she could never have imagined. You will follow her through to the end of her eventful emotional journey and weep at her sorrows and share in her smiles. A recommended read. Review Copy Gratis Amazon Vine
It sounds like an amazing book ive never read it but i love romance so imma read it.
I thought this book ended a bit abruptly, but all in all it was a good book.
When Danica's pilot husband doesn't return from a job in Alaska, she has to face the reality that he may not ever return. Slowly that acceptance begins, but not before some other realities about her marriage, her husband and herself also have to be faced. With support from sometimes unexpected sources, Danica begins to learn not only who she really is, but also who the rest of her family and friends are. So many things left unsaid and assumptions made over the years have formed her ideas of her mother, her sisters, and her almost mother-in-law. As she learns to face the future without her husband, and eventually starts the process of remaking her life, the support she receives from her family helps her to understand the new life she finds herself living. It is a joy to watch her begin to heal, and to open herself to the possibilities this new future holds for her. I love the different relationships, and the growth and exploration of each relationship. This book was just a beautiful celebration of women helping each other, with a nice male neighbor thrown in for some spice.
Nicole Baart is consistently one of my favorite authors. Why? She captures the hearts of strugglers so well. She mines their inner landscape. And she pulls off surprising, twisty stories that keep me turning pages. Far From Here kept me turning the page. She accurately portrayed the complexity of grief, particularly over losing someone who didn't always do things right. Baart's words represent reality, truth, and the beauty of human relationships.
Here is a romance with a twist. Through flashbacks, the author tells the story of Danica and Etsell (Dani and Ell)--meeting, falling in love, and marrying while quite young. Ten years into marriage, and Ell, a man who loves flying a small aircraft, leaves Dani, who has a white-knuckle fear of flying, for a three-week business trip in Alaska, and goes missing. The characters are fleshed out so well that connections are made with this reader. The author is adept in bringing characters to life. The story is compelling; I became anxious to find out how the plot ends. The conclusion, although somewhat expected, felt abrupt. This is one of those books, the reader did not want to end. Some profanity is used. Reading Group Guide is included. If you're in a book club, this one will definitely help the discussion. Thank you to Anne Staszalek from AuthorsOnTheWeb for my copy.
Disappointed! Don't be fooled; this is not an inspirational book! There are swear words, inappropriate gestures and God is a distant being without any true personal connections with the characters. The storyline is interesting, but I never felt like I "knew" the main character. It was like Dani was keeping a lot more secrets from us and the ending fell flat. This story would have been so much different if God was a main influence in Dani's life. Nicole Baart's "Summer Snow" series was EXCELLENT!!!! The characters were well written and developed! This series of books I recommend and would consider being inspirational books. Since I read these series of books first, I was expecting a lot more from "Far From Home," and was so disappointed that this book does not even compare to the level of quality that were in her previous books.
Leans on u.