Plainsong by Kent Haruf
1999, Vintage Books - a division of Random House, Inc., 301 pages
From Publishers Weekly
In the same way that the plains define the American landscape, small-town life in the heartlands is a quintessentially American experience. Holt, Colo., a tiny prairie community near Denver, is both the setting for and the psychological matrix of Haruf's beautifully executed new novel. Alternating chapters focus on eight compassionately imagined characters whose lives undergo radical change during the course of one year. High school teacher Tom Guthrie's depressed wife moves out of their house, leaving him to care for their young sons. Ike, 10, and Bobby, nine, are polite, sensitive boys who mature as they observe the puzzling behavior of adults they love. At school, Guthrie must deal with a vicious student bully whose violent behavior eventually menaces Ike and Bobby, in a scene that will leave readers with palpitating hearts. Meanwhile, pregnant teenager Victoria Roubideaux, evicted by her mother, seeks help from kindhearted, pragmatic teacher Maggie Jones, who convinces the elderly McPheron brothers, Raymond and Harold, to let Victoria live with them in their old farmhouse. After many decades of bachelor existence, these gruff, unpolished cattle farmers must relearn the art of conversation when Victoria enters their lives. The touching humor of their awkward interaction endows the story with a heartwarming dimensionality. This is a compelling story of grief, bereavement, loneliness and anger, but also of kindness, benevolence, love and the making of a strange new family. In depicting the stalwart courage of decent, troubled people going on with their lives, Haruf's quietly eloquent account illumines the possibilities of grace.
Plainsong by Kent Haruf is a wonderful novel filled with delicately beautiful characters whose simplicity endears them to the reader. We are given a glimpse into the lives of each character as their stories intertwine over a brief course of time.
The writing flows gently with dialog spilling into the story without quotation separation. At first, I was unsure of what to think of the format but I soon discovered that each sentence rolled perfectly into the next, presenting the story as a landscape in itself.
The characters are genuine and instantly draw the reader's sympathy as each deals with their own emotional onslaughts. The book addresses how we adjust to life-changing experiences at different age levels with characters representing various stages of life. Each finds themselves at a crossroads, easing into their existence one day at a time. They are characters that will linger with you.
The only negative was that it had to end. I wanted to keep reading about these people and see how their situations evolved and where life led them as time progressed. Plainsong defines how simplicity is sometimes all that is needed to create a story that enchants the reader.