Likely Stories: Where You Once Belonged by Kent Haruf

Feb 27, 2020

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

Kent Haruf died a few years ago, and I only learned of him when I came across his last novel, Our Souls at Night.  This tender dance between a widow and a widower who—in an effort to ward off loneliness--joined together struck me to the bone.  I immediately sought out the other five.  Where You Once Belonged leaves me with only one more.  And that makes me sad, because this collection of short novels is nothing more than magnificent.  All six of these stories deserve 10 stars as a group.

The story begins with a young man who develops into an extraordinary athlete.  Jack Burdette becomes the hero of the sleepy little town of Holt, Colorado.  All of Haruf's stories are set in this interesting fictional town.  The narrator is the owner of the Holt Mercury newspaper, and he writes, “I had known Jack Burdette all his life.  Or all of it, that is, except for the four years in the early 1960s when he was in the Army and in Holt and I was in college and then again later for those eight years after he had disappeared when no one in Holt knew him, that period when he was out in California living on his charm and that sum of money which he must have thought would last him a lifetime until one day the money gave out and he discovered he had only the charm left and not much of that.  For a long time I had even liked him” (20).

As sometimes happens, talented athletes receive extraordinary help in getting through high school and college.  Kent wrote, “Thus for eight years he was passed from one grade to the next, from one old local spinster or balding man to the next one, passing, being promoted each spring not so much by his own efforts with books and maps and pencils as by the absolute refusal of our teachers to have anything more to do with him […] he wore them all out.  In fact when it was their year to have him in their classroom our teachers, by the middle of September, were already counting the days until the month of May.  They had big calendars fastened to the walls with heavy Xs scratched and double scratched through the accumulation of finished days, and one of them, Miss Ermalline Johnson, actually resigned during Christmas break rather than return for another half year” (24).  It only takes one determined actor to wreak such havoc on a school.

Jack had a girlfriend.  Kent wrote, “Wanda Jo Evans loved him.  I believe, if such a thing is possible, that she even loved him more than he did himself.  She adored him, idolized him, hung on him.  All of that was no exaggeration either.  She wasn’t even the only one; she was merely the most obvious and conspicuous about it” (26).

Pick any of Kent Haruf’s splendid novels and see if you aren’t drawn into this marvelous world of Where You Once Belonged.  10 Stars for all of Haruf’s work.

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