A sentimental, wool-gathering first novel about an elderly Colorado farm woman who sets fire to her house to end the misery of her senile bachelor brother--and, in the process, her own deprived existence (entwined in his) as well. The narrator is the grown son of one of Edith Goodnough's ex-suitors--a swain who was brutally rejected not by Edith but by her sadistic and overbearing father Roy. And the life-story he tells is a miserable one: Edith endures through unrelenting physical work on the farm, which increases when Roy loses the use of his hands in an accident; she is cruelly abandoned when brother Lyman, semi-adolescent at 40, goes off to join WW II and doesn't reappear for 20 years; she has a few brief seasons of happiness with the returned Lyman; but then she sees it all turn to ashes with her brother's stunning mental deterioration. Haruf, having only this slender and linear plot to work with, tries to compensate with prairie-like stretches of old-storyteller chattiness: ""After that we all settled into our ruts again. 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, a bunch of worn-out cow paths winding down occasionally to water and a bit of rest and maybe a good blow for a while over a block of salt, but then back again once more into all this Holt County sand. Hell, you can see it any time in any cow pasture."" But, while starkly effective novels have certainly been made from the outline of a small, woeful life, this attempt seems strained and padded--with artificial folksiness used to kill time and give the illusion of texture.