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A bad apple poses a problem for the community in this small-town drama (and second novel); Haruf has pared away the folksiness of The Tie that Binds (1984) to produce a taut, though ultimately unsatisfying, work. Holt, Colorado, had never seen a football player like Jack Burdette, who brought his hometown glory when he took his high school all the way to the state championship; the town reveled in its local legend, as did his sweetheart Wanda Jo, who did all his homework, and later his laundry, waiting patiently for marriage and ignoring, along with the town, such warning signals as Jack's expulsion from college for petty theft. (This is being narrated by Jack's contemporary, Pat Arbuckle, who will succeed his father as owner/editor of the Holt Mercury.) Time passes, Wanda Jo waits and waits, and in 1971 Jack, by now 30 and manager of the grain elevator, returns from an out-of-state convention with a bride, Jessie, ten years his junior. The news just about destroys Wanda Jo, but the town doesn't turn against Jack until five years later, when he disappears with $150,000 embezzled from the elevator company; for a while it's ""open season"" on the quiet, too-independent Jessie (left behind with the two kids). Jack saves his greatest act of chutzpah, though, for another eight years, by which time the statute of limitations has run out: he returns to Holt, abducts Jessie (by now Pat's lover) and the kids at gunpoint, and disappears for a second time. Line by line, Haruf writes very well, and does a beautiful job of capturing small-town life, but (the big letdown) he has allowed a flurry of years and incidents (including four violent accidental deaths) to substitute for the drama of vigilante justice toward which the story had been building.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1989
ISBN: 0375708707
Publisher: Summit/Simon & Schuster