Haruf & Williams: Books 12 & 13 of #20booksofsummer22

I think it is fair to say that this summer has been a bit of a washout for me in terms of blogging.

With just under a week to go of 20 Books of Summer, I am woefully behind on my reviews and finishing the 15 that I originally picked is looking unlikely. I knew this would be a bust summer and that the blog might take the hit, but I have been finding if very difficult to make the time to sit and write reviews. On the plus side, I am still reading loads, just not reading the books I said I would be reading!

Therefore, in an attempt to catch up a bit here are two short reviews of books from my summer reading challenge.

No 364 Breaking and Entering by Joy Williams

Breaking and Entering is an odd dream-like novel about a young couple, Willie and Liberty, who break into the houses of absent rich people on Florida’s gulf coast, live there for a time and then move on.  Not very much happens in the novel. The pair move around, engaging in strange meditative conversations with other characters who cross their paths.

This thing that was like an enchantment, this energy that kept them going, this adopted perverse skill of inhabiting the space others had made for themselves. For they themselves were not preparing for anything, they were not building anything, they were just moving along.

Willie is the driving force of the pair, literally saving people from choking, drowning or other various accidents. Liberty saves people in a different way, talking the lost and lonely under her wing including a dog she found in a post box, Little Dot, the brain-damaged child of junkies and Teddy, a precocious seven-year old who has been rejected by his white trash father. The ruminative nature of the novel is enlivened by Charlie, an alcoholic real-estate agent who is in love with Liberty and constantly begs her to leave Willy and run off with him.

This is a novel full of broken lives, featuring a range of characters who live in liminal spaces, all searching for somewhere to call home. When the reader learns of Willie and Liberty’s history and how they came to be together, the book takes on a darker tone as the pair seem destined to constantly try to outrun the shared guilt of their past.

Breaking and Entering is a somewhat frustrating novel – episodic and meandering for the first half, yet filled with incident in the second – it takes time to reveal itself. Williams’ prose is lucid and unsettling, relying on atmosphere over incident and with a great eye for detail when it comes to describing place and landscape. I am not convinced that it is successful in what it sets out to do, but it is certainly unlike anything else I’ve read.

No 363 The Tie That Binds by Kent Haruf

The Tie That Binds is Kent Haruf’s debut novel, but is also the last Haruf that I had left to savour, having read everything else he has written and it is another quiet gem of a book.

Set in Colorado on the outskirts of the fictional town of Holt, where all Haruf’s books are set, the novel tells the story of the Goodnoughs – a family overshadowed by a bitter patriarch, Roy, whose controlling nature impacts the lives of his children Edith and Linus. The book focuses on Edith who, through accident and situation ends up spending her whole life on the farm – never leaving or getting married. The book opens with Edith, now an 80-year-old woman lying in a hospital bed, guarded by police officers and about to be charged with murder.

Edith’s story is told by her neighbour Sanders Roscoe and he excavates the history of the Goodnough’s to explore what brought Edith to this point of no return, who she is charged with murdering and why.

And sometimes, looking at this story, it seems to me like that’s about all it is: a series of independent ruts. Some of them lasted for four or five years and some lasted for twenty, but they were ruts just the same.

Edith’s story unfolds in simple, unadorned language and as he details the twists that her life has taken; Haruf explores larger truths about family, resilience, cruelty and love. The Ties that Bind is the story of families, be they coming together or falling apart. Within the understated description of everyday life, Haruf shows us the acts of violence and desperation that change those lives, for better or worse. He explores human relationships and love through sparse direct storytelling, the lack of embellishment that only adds to the authenticity of the tale. By telling the story of Edith’s life over the span of almost a century, he also depicts a changing landscape and country from the pioneer days when Edith’s father settled in Colorado to the 1970s.

Haruf’s prose style has been accused of being sentimental and this, his first novel, is definitely more sentimental than his later work, but he also depicts a darker side of family life. The hope and warmth of home life is eked away by the sheer economics of trying to survive, or the sheer drudgery of having to care for someone who cannot take care of themselves. There is little sentimentality in the relentless hardships of illness, cruelty or accident, and instead, Haruf gives us a counterpoint of small moments of comfort, routine and kindness, a very ordinary kind of love.

Kim at Reading Matters has written a lovely review of The Tie that Binds and if you haven’t read Haruf before, I would definitely recommend you check out his beautiful body of work.

So, there we have books 13 and 14 of my 20 (15) Books of Summer. I still need to review the epic Lonesome Dove and with 2 ½ books out of my original 15 still to read, I don’t think I’ll be completing my challenge this year.

How are the rest of you doing with your summer reading?

20 Books of Summer The 746

Cathy746books View All →

I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!

42 Comments Leave a comment

    • It’s the strangest book Susan – I’d never read Williams before so I’m not sure if it is indicative of her style – as much as I had issues with it, I haven’t been able to get it out of my head.


  1. I keep meaning to read more Haruf – I’ve only read his last novel which I adored, but think I have this one on the shelves! It sounds wonderful – and I don’t mind a bit of sentimentality if the writing is so good.
    Maybe you should cheat more with your 15 books!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve read and reviewed 17 of my 20 books and am reading the 18th now but it’s very unlikely I’ll have time for the last two before the end of the month. I think this is the closest I’ve ever come, though, so I’m not too disappointed!


  3. My reading has been ok, but there’s a pile to be reviewed too! I hadn’t heard of Haruf but I’m so glad you’ve brought him to my attention, this sounds wonderful and I take your point that they all are, yay!


  4. One day I’ll get around to reading the Haruf novels I have on the shelves – I enjoyed the one I read some years ago and always meant to read more. But you know where best intentions go don’t you??

    I’m pleased that I managed to read 11 out of my initial list for booksofsummer. I knew it would be a stretch to do any more. Like you though I am way behind with reviews


  5. Both new to me authors but both sound intriguing enough for me to want to look up. The structure of the first and even the broad plot s eems interesting even if the book doesn’t entirely work.

    I’d opted for 10 books this time, 7 have been reviewed. Am reading 8 and 9, so let’s see🤞


  6. I liked the way that the titles of these two novels are, as it were, linked, namely breaking and binding. Never tried any Haruf, not yet anyway, as I have too many novels I’m determined to whittle down before exploring new authors. But then, you’ve been there already!

    Of my list of ten I’ve only completed four, but actually 14 titles have been read, with another two likely to be read by the end of the month – a Robertson Davies novel and Black Water Sister by Zen Cho. I’m quite satisfied , and that’s what counts I suppose! 🙂


  7. A Haruf I’d not even heard of! I still have his Plainsong trilogy to read before I explore his back catalogue further. No need to feel bad about missing your 15 or 20; you’ve read loads and had all the work of keeping up with other people’s posting!


  8. Thanks for linking to my review. I have very fond memories of reading that particular Haruf; it’s a quietly devastating read.

    Like you, my reading plans have been somewhat thwarted. And I am very very behind in my reviewing, but I think I will get to 15 novels read, rather than 20, because I have had a bit of a reading spurt this past fortnight. Previously I thought I would be lucky to make 10 books!


  9. I bet you feel added pressure being the host of the 20 Books challenge, but I just wanted to say – It’s okay! Summer is busy and to be savored if you’re lucky enough to have time off. You do a marvelous job on your blog. You’re not alone in reading other books than the ones picked for the challenge – I have definitely done so. I will probably finish my last book by the end of the month but decided against 3 of the original 15. They just didn’t speak to me anymore, or I tried them and they weren’t for me.


    • I’m going easy on myself this year Laila, I knew it was going to be a busy summer and I even contemplated skipping it for a year, so I’m not surprised I didn’t make my goal. All good though and I read some really great books.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I thought I’d already commented here a couple of days ago but I’m wondering if some of my comments are going straight to spam. I remember trying to say something witty about ‘breaking’ and ‘tying’ from the two titles you feature but perhaps it wasn’t gold-standard funny so disappeared. I think I also said something about reading 14 books this summer, only four of which were on my list of ten, but hey-ho one can’t win them all!

    Liked by 1 person

    • There seems to be a few issues with commenting at the moment Chris, I’ll check in my Spam folder. If your comments are anything to go by I’m sure it was as witty as ever! 14 is still a good amount of books, I managed around the same.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I really love Haruf and I don’t find him sentimental, but I can see why that would be said about his work. I’ve not read his debut but I thought when you said he ‘gives us a counterpoint of small moments of comfort, routine and kindness, a very ordinary kind of love.’ that described so many moments in his novels – wonderful!


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