The Tie That Binds

by Kent Haruf

Paperback, 2000

Call number





Vintage (2000), Edition: Vintage Contemporaries ed, 246 pages


From the bestselling author of EventideThe 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.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member lit_chick
"She will be eighty years old this week: a clean beautiful white-haired woman who never in her life weighed as much as 115 pounds, and she has weighed a lot less than that since New Year’s Eve. Still, the sheriff and the lawyers expect her to get well enough for them to sit her up in a wheelchair and then drive her across town to the courthouse to begin the trial.” (Ch 1)

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)
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LibraryThing member lauralkeet
Kent Haruf landed on my favorite authors list thanks to his Plainsong trilogy, set in the fictional town of Holt, Colorado. But the people of Holt first appeared many years earlier in The Tie that Binds, Haruf's debut novel. The book opens with 80-year-old Edith Goodnough in hospital under suspicious circumstances. Her neighbor, Sanders Roscoe, proceeds to explain events leading up to Edith's hospitalization. And by "leading up to," I mean her entire life. Edith's parents moved from Iowa to Colorado in the late 1800s and bought a farm; Edith and her brother Lyman were born on the farm. Her father Roy was fiercely independent, but circumstances forced him to seek help from his nearest neighbors, the Roscoe family, from time to time. The two families were cordial, but Roy's temper and controlling manner was a barrier to close relationships. World War II provided Lyman with an escape, but Edith remained at home with her father, suppressing her own needs out of a sense of duty. Time marched on, the Goodnoughs and Roscoes continued to support one another, and Edith somehow managed to keep a positive outlook despite being practically a prisoner on her father's farm. She finds happiness through the lives of others, and eventually experiences a period of independence, but again fate intervenes and sets up the dramatic events foreshadowed at the beginning of the novel.

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.
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LibraryThing member lkernagh
Having read four of Haruf’s novels before dipping into this, his debut novel, I am immediately struck by two things: how well written this story is, and some stark differences to his later works. If you love Willa Cather’s stories – so far I have only read O’ Pioneers! and My Antonia, both of which are, IMO, fabulous stories – then I think The Tie That Binds may appeal to you. Both Haruf and Cather have a skill for capturing, with eloquence, the lonesomeness of the vast high plains/prairies. Haruf’s story is a story of two families – the Roscoes and the Goodnoughs (with a focus on Edith Goodnough) – and spans some 80 years. While we know right at the start that the story has a tragic event at its root, Haruf’s takes his time telling it, making use of 50 year old Sanders Roscoe as our meandering storyteller. Sanders takes his time because he wants the reader to fully understand the events leading up to that fateful day.

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.
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LibraryThing member Schmerguls
This is Haruf's first novel and I was moved to read it because I was much attracted by his Plainsong which i read 23 Apr 2000. This is a brutal novel of farm life in notheastern Colorado, depicting a tyrant father utterly dominating his son and daughter. The son escapes, but the daughter is held by the paternal tie.. The narrator is the son of the man who loves the daughter but is despised by the father. Long after the father dies the son returns, setting up a new scenario for drama. I found the first part of the novel totally absorbing, and the ending suitably gripping though some of the account after the son's return and before the dramatic close did pall a bit. But it is a superior fictional drama which is poignant and at times heart-stopping.… (more)
LibraryThing member donkeytiara
Haruf writes so that you know the folks in his books...and i'm always sorry to see them leave my life once I've finished reading one of his novels. This book was not about a glamorous life, but about a real life, stunted by circumstance, situation and the desire to do what is right. A thoughtful, caring book of love and relationships.… (more)
LibraryThing member TheBookJunky
He can sure write old folks. And younger folks, and flinty ones that don’t do so good, weak ones that wish they could, bitter ones that are helpless to be anything else.
This is just the way it is. Here is life.
He illuminates grace in hidden corners.
LibraryThing member Eye_Gee
I love everything I've read by Kent Haruf. This book was his first novel, set as the others are in Holt, Colorado. His voice and style seemed to have been fully formed from the outset, because this book is as strong as the ones that followed. The pacing, imagery, characters, dialogue, and trajectory are confident and familiar. If anything, his characters in this book are stronger than in the others, but in no way are they hard to imagine in his fictional community of Holt. If you've enjoyed Haruf's other work you will enjoy this.… (more)
LibraryThing member oldblack
Definitely not in the same class as his later books, but equally definitely of a quality superior to most of what I read. There's great setting a mood right from the outset and giving the reader a real feeling that they know the place and people that he's describing. Then on top of that there's the story which makes us think hard about what our roles should be in the world. There's none of the over-romanticizing (or demonizing) either that you often find in the works of authors who focus a lot on one particular place.… (more)
LibraryThing member williamsLA
If you are from the mid-West, you know the people in this story. The characters were true to life and the plot kept you reading.
LibraryThing member Corwin2634
Excellent writing. The first I have read of his. I will be reading the others.
LibraryThing member Appliquetion
Every tale has two sides and what you see may not be the reality of what really happened. Go back in time and follow the story of Eighty-year-old Edith Goodnough and discover why she is in the hospital facing murder charges. Discover the roads that she traveled to become what she is and hear the story from the boy who loved her with all his heart.

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.
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LibraryThing member Iambookish
Our first book discussion book that i loved!
LibraryThing member lenoreva
I usually don't go for these "quiet" type novels, but this one explores rural hardships with an inventive narrative hook. It is down-to-earth, tragic and eye-opening.
LibraryThing member zmagic69
I think this is quite possibly Kent Haruf's best book, which is a surprise because the books that followed it were all fantastic, but for a writers first book to be this good, does not happen often.
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.… (more)




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