From the bestselling author of Eventide, The Tie That Binds is a powerfully eloquent tribute to the arduous demands of rural America, and of the tenacity of the human spirit. Colorado, January 1977. Eighty-year-old Edith Goodnough lies in a hospital bed, IV taped to the back of her hand, police officer at her door. She is charged with murder. The clues: a sack of chicken feed slit with a knife, a milky-eyed dog tied outdoors one cold afternoon. The motives: the brutal business of farming and a family code of ethics as unforgiving as the winter prairie itself. Here, Kent Haruf delivers the sweeping tale of a woman of the American High Plains, as told by her neighbor, Sanders Roscoe. As Roscoe shares what he knows, Edith's tragedies unfold: a childhood of pre-dawn chores, a mother's death, a violence that leaves a father dependent on his children, forever enraged. Here is the story of a woman who sacrifices her happiness in the name of family--and then, in one gesture, reclaims her freedom.
So begins The Tie That Binds, written some fifteen years earlier than Haruf’s masterpiece Plainsong. Like its successor, The Tie That Binds features a sibling relationship, that of the dutiful Edith Goodnough and her simple brother, Lyman. The two are the children of failed homesteaders, “fixed” to an unrelenting life on the dryland farm, south of Holt. Lyman will eventually escape, but Edith will have no such reprieve: rather, she remains unfalteringly loyal to her cruel, ungrateful father. Her sole relationships, outside of immediate family, are with a neighbouring father and son: John and Sanders Roscoe. It is Sanders, in fact, who narrates the novel. The Roscoes alone are appreciative of Edith’s beauty, both inside and out; and they understand and accept her unwavering sense of duty. Later, they will know her incredible courage.
Haruf’s writing never fails to mesmerize me. Edith and Lyman Goodnough are unforgettable, just as the MacPheron brothers I came to love before them. Though perhaps they did not illicit the same level of emotional response from me as the two elder brothers, The Tie That Binds is Haruf’s debut novel! His sense of place and time here is as flawless as I’ve come to expect: he writes of an August day in 1967 when the Goodnoughs and the Roscoes, Sanders and his wife, attend the Holt County Fair, and I won’t forget that day! The evocative writing, so simple and yet so intimate, drew me time and again right into the novel’s pages, into Holt, and into the lives of the characters. Most highly recommended.
"But if their father was fixed, Edith and Lyman were fixed even worse. They were stuck now on that sandhill farm. How were they going to leave him, the way he was? They couldn’t leave him. Not that way, they couldn’t. It was hell for all of them. They were all fixed.” (Ch 3)
As with his later works, Haruf brings rural Colorado and its people to life. This book lacks the complexity and emotional depth of the Plainsong trilogy, but is still an excellent read from a novelist who left us far too soon.
This is a deeply affecting, tragic story with themes of love, loyalty, responsibility and sacrifice. Edith is an amazing character. Her fortitude/ resilience is powerful. So how does this differ from Haruf’s other novels I have read? For me, this story is more focused. Everything dove-tails towards Edith. While Haruf’s stories tend to include difficult family situations, the unrelenting nature of the sadistic/ overbearing influence Edith and her brother endure makes this such a shocking read.
If you are like me and gravitate towards stories, like this one, written in clear, straightforward prose with a raw subject matter that emotionally draws you in, I can highly recommend The Last of the Crazy People by Timothy Findley.
This is just the way it is. Here is life.
He illuminates grace in hidden corners.
I personally love Ken Haruf's books. I first read Plainsongs last month and had to mooch the rest of his books and I must say this one touched me as much as plainsongs did. It made me cry by the end and left me wishing for more. I give it rave reviews and recommend it for anyone who likes small town stories and insight into human nature.
The story is about Edith Goodnough a woman living on the plains of Colorado and what she has had to endure in her 80 years living there. It is told by her neighbor Sanders Roscoe. That's it, that is all the book is about. The writing- the story telling skills- of this author are extremely rare, you have a good idea what is going to happen around each turn in the story, but as the reader you don't care, because the writing is that good.