Likely Stories : The Ties That Bind, by Kent Haruf

Jun 17, 2021

I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry.

I have for you today the last of the six dramatic novels by Kent Haruf, The Tie That Bind.  This story warns of potential dreadful results in a completely dysfunctional family.  Kent won numerous awards, including a special citation from the PEN/Hemingway Foundation, a finalist for the National Book Award, the LA Times Book Prize, and the New Yorker Book Award.  He died in 2014.


The story begins with the ending.  “Edith Goodnough isn’t in the country anymore.  She’s in town now, in the hospital, lying there in that white bed with a needle stuck in the back of one hand and a man standing guard in the hallway outside her room.  She will be eighty years old this week: a clean beautiful whitehaired woman who never in her life weighed as much as one-hundred-fifteen pounds, and she has weighed a lot less than that since New Year’s Eve” (1).  The novel is told by Sanders Roscoe, a loves Edith, but he is too young for her.

Ada and Roy were both born in Iowa around eighteen-seventy-two.  They married in eighteen-ninety-five.  The story continues, “Ada never got over the shock of this country.  There was too much of it, and none of it looked like Iowa. // But Ada wouldn’t have left Iowa at all if this had still been Indian country.  She wasn’t the kind of woman to dare that much.  Somehow, she would have blocked Roy’s homestead plans, and she would either have found a way to endure Roy’s cold feet or she would have gone home to her mother, like I’ve already suggested.  But whatever, she would have stayed in Iowa, which was established country by that time, and feeling at home would have gone on attending church and making little forays to town to buy thread for doilies and gimcracks for the house, and if that happened,

if she had stayed in Iowa, that dark lost look, which pictures of her show, might never have taken root in her eyes.  But the Indians were gone.  She didn’t have that ready excuse nor good reason not to come.  She had to follow her husband, if what he proposed to do seemed even remotely reasonable, and after all, by the beginning of the last decade of the last century, this country was already starting to fill up with homesteaders; There wasn’t much homestead land left.  So Ada came” (18-19).

Things did not go well from the beginning.  Haruf wrote, “So, his corn didn’t do very well, and I don’t suppose Ada doing very well either. […] sometime in August of that summer Roy had found enough sap and energy and time to get her pregnant” (23).  Ada gave birth to a girl she named Edith. 

Even thought things did not go well for this family, The Ties That Bind by Kent Haruf, deserves 5 Stars

Likely Stories is a production of KWBU.  I’m Jim McKeown.  Join me again next time for Likely Stories, and happy reading!