Every once in a while comes a novel that is so remarkable in its quality that it stands out not only as an example of what literature (well-written fiction) should be, but also as a satisfying reading experience all by itself. Stoner is one, Crossing to Safety is another. Kent Haruf is the latest to join the league of John Williams and Wallace Stegner in my book. As soon as I turned the last page of Plainsong (more like finishing the review of the book), I got my hands on Haruf’s debut novel, The Tie That Binds. Haruf’s style is quiet and contemplative, his prose spare but the language is deep. Haruf steers clear of sentimentality and melodrama while constructing a taut narrative in which the revelations of characters and their rising emotional tensions are held at perfect balance. In The Tie That Binds, the story is told in first person narrative. The neighbor unfolds the story of a woman who sacrifices her happiness in the name of her family.
Well, no, not nothing exactly. She didn’t just do nothing all that time. But she sure God didn’t go traveling off across the North American continent, either. She didn’t even go those seven miles into Holt very often. She stayed home. Jesus, that’s about all you can say: Edith Goodnough stayed home. And if you figure it up, if you do your arithmetic from those chiseled dates in the cemetery, then you know Edith was seventeen when her mother died in 1914; she was fifty-five when the old man died in 1952; and she was sixty-four when Lyman finally returned in 1961. It amounts to a lifetime of staying home. (Ch. 6, p.111)
Like Stegner, Haruf explores the lives of people who work the land in the stark America Middle West. He captures people and their lives, with a sense of dignity and tenacity of spirits. How can I not love Haruf?