Reading: The Tie That Binds by Kent Haruf

The Tie That Binds
Author: Kent Haruf
Type: Fiction
Date Finished: Feb. 27, 2019
Rating: ★★★★★

Image from Amazon

Roy Goodnough was a mean son of a bitch. When first introduced he seems almost comical,

“But Roy now, I suppose Roy would have come [to the West] anyway, even if Indians were still here. He was about enough of a fox terrier to trot into a territory that belonged to somebody else, and once he got there, raise his hind leg to it, claim it for his own, without thinking twice about prior claims or possible consequences.” [p 19]

Then over the early chapters we see more and more of him: “[n]eighboring families don’t visit much when one of the neighbors is Roy Goodnough.” [p 27]

After all, “he figured it was not only his God-given right but his particular duty too to be forever mean and harsh.” [p 170]

The novel takes place over a big portion of the 20th century. Roy moves himself and his wife, Ada, from Iowa to eastern Colorado to homestead a farm. Soon enough, kids, Lyman and Edith came along. Ada died when the kids were teenagers. Yet, no matter how terrible a father Roy was – no matter how terrible a person – the children stayed.

“It wasn’t enough that their father was Roy Goodnough or that their mother died early; there had to be at least one more thing to clinch matters, to fix them forever, to make Edith and Lyman end up the way they did…” [p 33]

Through shear force of will he made sure the kids never got an idea of leaving. As Edith later explains:

“‘But understanding it and liking it aren’t the same things.’ No,’ she said, ‘no, they are not the same things.’” [p 138]

Nevertheless, Edith made an attempt to break free of her father, and Lyman got a taste of town when World War II broke out.  

This wonderful novel tracks the Goodnough family and the nearest neighbor – whose son narrates the tale – over half a century. We understand how and why this dysfunctional family  stayed together. The story is both a riveting event-paced novel but a deep character-driven study. It’s hard to say much about the pivotal events without giving things away. Suffice it say that when the story opens Edith is an old woman in the hospital and accused of murder.

Kent Haruf was an outstanding novelist. If you haven’t read his work before, I recommend starting with the first two books of the Plainsong series: Plainsong and Eventide. Then read this: I like it better than Benediction,  the last book of the Plainsong series.

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