The Tie That Binds by Kent Haruf

The first book I read from Kent Haruf was his last. “Our Souls at Night” swept me away with its quietude and I expected nothing less from the next book I was recommended, which was “The Tie That Binds.”

This novel is similar in its quietude but there is a certain bleak beauty to it. The story begins with 80-year-old Edith Goodnough being accused of murder and lying in the hospital. But we don’t know any of the background till the narrator, Sanders Roscoe, steps in.

“Most of what I’m going to tell you, I know. The rest of it, I believe.”

Roscoe’s story takes us far back to the vestiges of the 19th century, to the fictional town of Holt in rural Colorado. He tells us of incidents that span the course of nearly a 100 years, which shaped Edith’s life. Sanders Roscoe was Edith’s neighbour and there was a time when his father courted her and even asked her to marry him. But Edith, bound by a strong sense of duty, decided to take care of her father, Roy Goodnough, an extremely obnoxious and tortured man. Later, Roscoe’s father passes away, Edith’s brother, Lyman, who was living a peripatetic life returns home to live with his sister, and Roscoe is now married.

As we can see, the changes unfold slowly but surely and yet, through it all there is one constant – Edith. Her life is tied to the farm, to the countryside, and to her home. She neither marries nor dates anyone. After her father, it’s her brother that she takes care of. Roscoe’s elaborate narrative sets the scene, and retells incidents that give us an understanding of why Edith and Lyman turn out the way they are.

“The Tie That Binds” is ultimately about relationships and community, a theme that can be seen in “Our Souls at Night” as well. But unlike in the latter, here the landscape melds seamlessly into the story and is almost like another character. The vast farmlands, evocatively described by Roscoe, is redolent with the sights and sounds of rural America.

“The sun speckled through the straw weave of their hats, and they could hear the horses stamping and rattling their harness. Lyman lay between Edith and John Roscoe; the wet back of his shirt and overalls was caked now with sand. They could smell the cut wheat, dusty and heavy in the air, and the sharp green smell of the sagebrush across the fence line in the native pasture that belonged then to the Roscoes and still does.”

Haruf is, no doubt, now one of my favourite authors. I can’t wait to return to Holt and lose myself in the story of yet another family there again.

Image Credit: Penguin Randomhouse

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