In our fast-paced, increasingly suburban world it is a comfort to open a book on a rainy day that explores the unhurried life of rural America. A kind of world where doors remain unlocked, everyone knows each other and the lifestyle is tied to the land. But rural communities experience many of the same personal and communal tragedies as urban areas.
Kent Haruf, in three powerful novels of modern life on the high plains, lifts away the idyllic stereotype of a land dotted with farms and the communities that develop between them and exposes the best and worst of the human condition.
In “The Tie That Binds,” “Where You Once Belonged,” and “Plainsong,” Haruf introduces readers to the fictitious town of Holt on the plains of eastern Colorado, a community that shares the characters, hardships, successes and failures of any real rural settlement. A small town surrounded by farms where the county fair is the annual attraction and the price of grain the daily conversation topic. But the people are not immune to strife.
In “The Tie That Binds,” Haruf details the callous life of a woman on the plains through the words of her neighbor, Sanders Roscoe. Edith Goodnough endures the early death of her mother, a never-ending routine of pre-dawn chores and an angry domineering father, crippled by the savagery of farm work. From his farm a half-mile away Roscoe is witness to the tragedies Edith suffers, and the personal happiness she sacrifices at her farmhouse on the plains.
Roscoe's narration gently pulls the reader through a generation of life among the wheat fields. The life and death struggle to plant and harvest, the inherent danger of the isolated farm and emotional sacrifice are told with elegance and dignity.
Haruf's second novel “Where You Once Belonged,” finds the people of Holt reliving the terror heaped upon them by Jack Burdette, once their proudest son. Burdette was the star football player, handsome and confident. Adulthood changes him as confidence turns to arrogance and his actions and attitude alienate him from his hometown. High school friends, jilted lovers and the rest of the townspeople struggle with Burdette's betrayal and personal realities. But Burdette is not finished. After many years away he returns to Holt for one final heinous act.
“Plainsong” is a culmination story of Holt and its people. A young high school girl with child, a depressed mother who leaves her two sons, a single woman looking for love and two bachelor brothers who seldom leave their farm. It is a story of decisions, the people who make them and the consequences of them. Above all it is the story of a community, isolated on the high plains, that adapts to life's disappointments by growing together.