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Book Review: Tie-Fast Country by Robert Flynn

Here’s a review of a recent novel by Texas author Robert Flynn (see disclaimer at bottom).

This latest novel, Tie-Fast Country by Robert Flynn has a lot of things going for it. It’s basically a character-driven novel about a grandmother rancher, and it touches on Western/cowboy themes of his earlier novels. It provides a lot of gritty realism about running a ranch and living in a rural Texan town in the early 20th century. The panoramic aspect to the story reminds me of Wanderer Springs, but I found it darker and somewhat more cynical than his other novels.

The most innovative thing about the book is the story structure, where each chapter alternates between flashbacks of the grandmother’s life and the grandson’s point of view in present time. Chance Carter, the grandson has to find Rista to settle legal questions about her estate before her death. The first third of the book consists of flashbacks of Rista growing up. It reads really great. We hear about how she fell in love and learned the rancher’s trade (despite being a woman) and the life choices she had to make about being a rancher. At the same time, we hear Chance’s point of view about contemporary life; he works at a local TV station and is jaded by the commercial aspects of the journalism business. These two people come from totally contrary walks of life, and yet the grandson has to learn about her world in order to appreciate how far she has come.

The first 100 pages is the “most raw” and has lots of things: great incidents from the grandmother’s childhood, as well as lots of jabs at contemporary media by the grandson. The second third slows down a bit; the book has Rista narrate stories of her past instead of showing them via flashback. Probably more true to life, but not as dramatically interesting. The last third certainly picks up the action, showing the important men in Rista’s life and how she treated them (I’m being vague on purpose here).

The book has lots of light-hearted moments (especially the multiple comparisons between taking care of cattle and taking care of husbands). None of this is laugh-out-loud funny, but certainly worth a few chuckles. The grandson’s girlfriend (who doesn’t really appear in the novel but keeps in touch via telephone throughout) provides a nice contemporary perspective (She’s an unhappy anchorwoman who hates her job). It’s nice to see how some of the grandson’s ethical difficulties about TV reporting are echoed in the grandmother’s own life (albeit in less direct ways).

The book certainly had surprises, although the ending left me unsatisfied. The book had talked about Rista for 300+ pages, and by the end, I don’t feel that I had come any closer to knowing the novel’s central character. Nor do I have reason to believe the grandson has gained any insight into his own predicament as a result of his dealings with Rista. Part of the problem lies in the backward-looking nature of such a story.

The style is unadorned, sometimes prosaic and occasionally poetic. It is most vivid when describing Rista’s early life at the ranch. Contrast that with the last few chapters, which are told with sparse emotion and little embellishment.

SUMMARY: a character-based drama with regional color and hints of darkness. The first 100 pages were terrific; and although the book has a lot of action, the ending didn’t seem to resolve the grandson’s inner conflicts.

For regular readers of Flynn, I’d compare this to Wanderer Springs, though it is slightly darker (though not as dark as Last Klick). Although Flynn’s first novel North to Yesterday is most widely known, this novel actually makes me think of the lesser known “In the House of the Lord” (depicting life of a minister in a small Texas town) much more remarkable because of its simple personal approach. Tie-Fast Country is much more ambitious, but perhaps Flynn’s stories work better on a smaller scale (such as “In the House of the Lord” or Flynn’s short stories).

Disclaimer: I had fiction writing workshops with Robert Flynn while studying at Trinity. More on Disclaimers and Reviewing .

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