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A heartstrong story of family and romance tribulation and tenacity set on the High Plains east of DenverIn the small town of Holt Colorado a high school teacher is confronted with raising his two boys alone after their mother retreats first to the bedroom then altogether A teenage girl—her father long since disappeared her mother unwilling to have her in the house—is pregnant alone herself with nowhere to go And out in the country two brothers elderly bachelors work the family homestead the only world they've ever knownFrom these unsettled lives emerges a vision of life and of the town and landscape that bind them together—their fates somehow overcoming the powerful circumstances of place and station their confusion curiosity dignity and humor intact and resonant As the milieu widens to embrace fully four generations Kent Haruf displays an emotional and aesthetic authority to rival the past masters of a classic American traditionUtterly true to the rhythms and patterns of life Plainsong is a novel to care about believe in and learn from

10 thoughts on “Plainsong

  1. says:

    Colorado High Plains image source Peek between the gaps to appreciate the pared down beauty of this book At its heart is absence the words not used the thoughts not made explicit the loved ones left or lost the open space in which it is set The language is plain utilitarian and unsentimental as are the situations described in the short chaptersThere is no backstory there are no inner monologues indeed most of the characters say little enough out loud and when they do there are no uotation marks – and there are few suggestions as to what the future might hold It is all rooted in the fickle but ubiuitous Colorado dust of the here and now published in 1999 and maybe set a few years earlierSimplicity lends clarity and focus but what lies beneath is complexThe story juxtaposes intolerable loss and cruelty with the amazing unconditional generosity and love of virtual strangers Despite the pain there is always tender tentative hope They knew they were not out of the woods yet but they allowed themselves to believe that what they saw ahead was at least a faint track leading to a kind of promising clearing So many caveats in a single sentencePairsThere is an unsettling sense of oscillation uncertainty precarious balance because this is a book of pairs twins and opposites of people and situations – even pairs of pairs Ike and Bobby Guthrie the young brothers; Raymond and Harold McPheron the old ones One pair are bemused by the many varieties of sugar eggs and oats in a shop then in the next chapter another pair are bemused by the permutations of cribs mattresses and bedding Windows are open and shaded Two women withdraw from motherhood as another embarks on it and childless people parent a mother The pregnancy of cows is balanced with that of a young woman Cruelty is counteracted with kindness There is sleep and wakefulness death and birth light and dark blood and beauty and walkingpushing away versus being welcomed unconditionally Perhaps the ultimate pair is that of this book with its seuel Eventide They are two halves of the same story set a couple of years apart both woven around the delicate combination of pairs of similarity and difference If you read Plainsong and enjoy it I urge to read Eventide soon after as I did Benediction is separate despite GR labelling it as #3 See my reviews• Eventide follows on from this 5 • Benediction a separate story 5SleepThe hypnotic beauty of the plain song is almost soporific Almost Sleep is mentioned on the very first page and is significant in almost every chapter for at least the first third of the book and occasionally but importantly in the remainder A crucial turning point – than would ordinarily be the case – concerns the decision to buy a cribThere are so many dilemmas and issues where characters sleep; how they sleep; whether to wake someone; whether someone is really asleep or not; the dishevelled look on waking; using sleep as an excuse; using lack of sleep as an excuse; watching someone sleep However who people sleep with and don’t is much less importantA tired character looked “like some survivor of a train wreck or flood the sad remnant from some disaster that had passed through and done its damage and gone on”It’s not just people even the battered windows and screens of an abandoned house make it look “sleepy eyed” Individually these incidents are dismissible as uotidian but taken together they hint at something deeper Holt is not a sleepy small town in the usual sense There are life changing events for all the main characters but they are never treated as big emotional dramas Holt's citizens are troubled in many ways and that is reflected in their night time hours When they’re awake they get on with life as best they can Maggie JonesHer name may head only one chapter but she’s the benevolent puppeteer of most of the key characters The chapters each bear the title of the main characters concerned All but two are Tom Guthrie Ike and Bobby his sons Victoria Roubideaux and McPherons elderly brothers There is one each for Ella Guthrie’s wife and Maggie JonesShe is the one who suggests the McPherons take in the pregnant teen Victoria “You solitary old bastards need somebody too You’re going to die someday without ever having had enough trouble in your life Not of the right kind anyway” Then she steps back and leaves them to sort things out not because she can’t be bothered or doesn’t care but because she understands that’s the most effective way Her involvement with Tom Guthrie is a similar combination of the forthright and passiveStonerThe McPheron brothers reminded me strongly of the eponymous character of my joint favourite novel Stoner If Stoner had followed his likely destiny as a son of the soil he would have been barely distinguishable from Harold and RaymonduotesImportant things happen to the characters in Plainsong but it's really about the atmosphere conjured by the landscape and language rather than plotHaruf’s style is perfect for dirt and dust slanted light and shadow• “The sun was higher the light beginning to slide down the ladder of the windmill brightening it making rings of rose gold”• “The pickup lifted a powdery plume from the road and the suspended dust shone like bright flecks of gold in the sun”• “Her hair had been dyed built not recently her hair was maroon like no human natural colour anywhere”• “The air was turning sharp with a fall feeling of loneliness coming Something unaccountable pending in the air”• “You must be lonely” “They didn’t know how to say anything about that”• A pregnancy test packet with a picture of a “young honey haired woman with the look of religious exaltation on her face and the sunshiny garden stretching out behind”• “The flicker of light spilled out into the side yard where it flickered ever faintly in a kind of illuminated echo on the dirt and dry weeds”• “Glancing out of the window toward the place where the sun shone aslant on a few bare trees risen up along the street It looked cold and bleak outside”• “The trees along the curb still showed sunlight at the tops; in the slanting afternoon sun the trees cast the thinnest of shadows as though they had been sprayed onto the street and brown grass”• “The empty house The broken –down neglected locust trees shaggy barked the overgrown yard the dead sunflowers grown up everywhere with their heads loaded and drooping everything dry and brown now in the late fall dust coated and the sunken house itself diminished and weathered”• “The little front room where at any time day or night her clothes had been discarded and draped over the anonymous furniture and where bowels of shrinking drying food had been put down at random on the bare rug”• “The sky had turned faint and wispy and the thin blue shadow had reached across the snow”• “Her eyes still bore a kind of wounded fierceness as though the sadness and anger were both just below the surface”• “Only a thin violet band of light showed in the west on the low horizon''• “She acted as though she were happy They watched her with their heads down and smiled when she said things”• “They looked as stiff and motionless as two lifelike statues of minor saints” Note “minor”• Wind “crying around the house corners heaving and whinging in the bare trees”• “Too humbled and embarrassed to say what it was they wanted even if they could have said exactly what it was”• “If you can read you can cook You can always feed yourselves You remember that I’m not just talking about here When you go home too”• “The early dark of late December The low sky closing down”• “All flat and sandy the stunted stands of trees at the isolated farmhouses The winter wheat was the only real green”• “The freckled shade of the trees with the sun sliding down behind them”It’s possible I’ve instinctively added some of the commas Haruf deliberately omittedThis is another book I loved that I only knew about thanks to the review of a GR friend Thank you Steve

  2. says:

    Victoria Robideaux is 17 and pregnant Her mother throws her out and she is taken in for a time by the kindly Maggie Jones But Maggie’s old father is off his rocker and this makes for a dangerous household for Vicky She winds up with two brothers Raymond and Harold McPheron sheltered gentlemen who have spent their entire lives working the same ranch in the home in which they grew up The love that springs up in this makeshift family is a glory to behold Dark forces abide in the town as well and are given their due attention as well But it is a very human town that Haruf portrays The writing is beautiful and spare This is a work of art Other Kent Haruf books we have enjoyed Our Souls at Night Benediction Eventide

  3. says:

    A beautifully written novel set in the rural town of Holt Colorado Plainsong is a book I will not soon forget The prose is modest yet so elegant in its simplicity Nothing is overdone and yet what happens to the characters in this book is far from uneventful A pair of young brothers that have to learn to adjust without a mother in the home a teenage girl pregnant and without a home a father trying to raise his boys on his own and a pair of staunch old bachelors who are presented with a somewhat extraordinary proposal these all warmed my heart and I had a hard time detaching myself from their lives at story's end I don't want to say any than this about the plot; you will have to read this yourself to appreciate all the connections and how their lives intersect with one another in a most meaningful way My heart ached at times for the young brothers Bobby and Ike as well as for the uietly dignified mother to be Victoria The McPheron brothers and an infirm elderly lady named Mrs Stearns put a smile on my face and offered me a newfound faith in humanity This is a story that resonates with hope and beauty and has earned nothing short of 5 stars from me

  4. says:

    Welcome to the small town of Holt Colorado and its surround countryside I am not sure how it happened that I read this trilogy completely backwards but now that I have read the last one the first one last as any good backwards reader will tell you I can now see where the feuds started where the marriages broke down where new relationships were formed where people lived – together and apart – and how their individual stories began to intertwine with those of their neighbours their friends their enemies and the strangers who just wandered into their livesAs always Kent Haruf’s writing soothed me while keeping my interest in the story he is telling and allowing me room for my thoughts to free fall from the heights and ascend yet againThere is one instance where one simple sentence of probably no than a dozen words had me thinking picturing exactly what he described There is another wee paragraph that describes two people dancing and at the end of it I was breathless – I had been in that dance – part of the whirling twirling bodies at one with the musicAnd the vividness does not stop there I could feel the anguished helplessness of two little boys who were being terrorized by a high school bully I admired the many times that Maggie Jones’ wisdom came through in her interactions with others – Veronica the older McPheron bachelors Tom Guthrie All of them benefit in expansive ways because she knows when to put her thoughts forward and when to back awayKent Haruf’s writing in this first of the Plainsong Trilogy is as soothing as a cup of warm tea and yet he does not back away from life’s harsh realities In his hands the darker incidents told plainly and simply become strong messages about who we are at our worst yet he always leaves the door open for possible redemptionOne day I hope to read this Trilogy again only this time I plan to do so by proceeding in chronological order I have a feeling that it will be like reading them with fresh new eyes and that my reading experience will be all the richer for it

  5. says:

    I'm a private introverted person I don't enjoy debates or big flare up arguments with loud splotches of emotion Whack There's some emphatic feeling right there all messy on the floor Maybe it's my Canadian ness or a result of my upbringing in a house where my parents always kept their troubles uietly to themselves As a result of this personality trait it follows that I don't like BIG CAPITAL LETTERS loads of exclamation marks or all kinds of emphasis bejewelling and explanations Subtlety it's a beautiful thing I aspire to it In life and in books Thus I have a great deal of admiration for Kent Haruf's novel which is 'plain' in title and execution The words are serviceable and unadorned much like the farm people who populate his story Melodrama does not live here Hysteria is not welcome Words lie on the page as they are simple yet elegant These simple words then reach into your heart and march according to its beat I found that all on my own without coercion or even the slightest push from the author I was connected with the people of Holt Young boys who have to deal with their mother moving away a pregnant teenager kicked out of her home a newly single father an elderly lady who makes cookies for boys who deliver her newspaper They're all three dimensional people now thanks to Haruf's subtle words Especially the McPheron brothers two older men whose stoic decent hearts are cracked open later in life and who shine a warm light on every page they inhabitThe words simple as they are have power So while I often don't reach it subtlety that is Haruf's writing is a lovely reminder to keep trying

  6. says:

    Plainsong is my second Kent Haruf novel and an easy 5 starsThis powerful tale of small town life is set in Holt a rural community near Denver in ColoradoThe small cast of carefully drawn characters struggle with the challenges and uiet disasters of life A young girl copes with an unplanned pregnancy a school teacher lives through a marriage break up his young sons try to make sense of the troubled world they find themselves in and two elderly brothers live in frigid isolation on their cattle farm coping with everyday hardships a biting winter and loneliness Their lives touch in a way that is both moving and surprisingly grippingThere’s a clarity of vision and uiet wisdom in Haruf’s writing that makes you savour every word and live every moment with the charactersThere’s humour too but it’s uiet and understated an occasional smile in the haunting melancholyThe people involved don’t say much but their down to earth nature and un showy humanity makes them or most of them instantly likeableThere are three books in the Plainsong series and I’m really looking forward to the next one

  7. says:

    Beautiful a beautiful book Thanks to all the good Goodreads friends who kept recommending this book to meEspecially the relationship and love between the gentle old farmer brothers Harold and Raymond McPheron and the young and pregnant Victoria who they take into their home after her mother cast her out is heartfelt Wonderful writing beautiful scenery Great story I like the description on the back cover A novel of haunting beauty Plainsong explores the grace and hope of every human life and mankind's infinite capacity for loveLike many before me I say Highly Recommended

  8. says:

    A beautiful heartbreaking and ultimately redemptive novelSet in the fictional town of Holt Colorado in the real life eastern plains of that Rocky mountain state and adjacent to the great elevations author Kent Haruf’s somber 1999 novel Plainsong explores the interconnected lives of a group of people living and dying in this western plains townGuthrie is a high school teacher raising two young boys and whose marriage is coming to a strange and murky end Tom Guthrie is a simple western man trying to maintain a sense of himself and his standards in the face of many and sundry complications Not a perfect hero Haruf casts Tom in a realistic light but one from which heroism is seen plainlyTom’s sons Ike and Bobby ten and nine years old feel the loss of their mother in the not understanding way that children struggle with in a separation Haruf tells of the separation obliuely and lets the reader try to understand no doubt as real life participants also strive to make sense of relationships gone awryVictoria Roubideaux one of Tom’s students is a seventeen year old who is pregnant and faces the difficulties of family and relationships with a uiet dignity of young mothers throughout history Like Guthrie Haruf has created in Victoria not a one dimensional flawless heroine but rather painted with the brush of harsh realism; but Victoria and her sweet nature is one of the most charming aspects of this bookThe McPheron’s Raymond and Harold are two elderly bachelor brothers who operate a ranch at the edge of town They are persuaded to take in Victoria and the relationship that forms between the three is the hard nucleus around which the novel growsMaggie Jones is a colleague of Tom’s who provides the connection between all of the other characters A strong and wise woman who is also described as earthy and sensuousHaruf has created a stark landscape and peopled that harsh world with players as tough and resilient as the first people of the plains

  9. says:

    The stories displayed in this novel are simple and unadorned both by the mundane events going on in the lives of these ordinary characters and by the sober style of Haruf’s prose which brings them to life But when you sing these plain tunes together a canon of imitations of melody recurrent patterns and apparently disparate circumstances compose a colorful richer symphony that is anything but simpleIn the small community of Holt Colorado Tom Gurthie a high school history teacher is trying to endure his wife’s long term depression while dealing with concerning issues in the classroom that might bring an untimely end to his career His two young boys Ike and Bobby face a motherless future that forces them to enter the world of adulthood prematurelyVictoria is a teenager who is thrown out when her mother finds out that she is pregnant The McPheron brothers two elderly and lonely farmers will offer her shelter and uite unexpectedly a solitary farmstead might become a warm sweet homeThe pace of the storyline moves forward without giving way into easy dramatizing alternating realistic situations that invite the reader to pause and reflect on the plausible obstacles the characters confront on a daily basis and a vital cadence that pulsates underneath the toned down narration The scenarios the novel features might seem unrelated on the surface but they are essentially the same when one takes a closer look as there is nothing trivial in the tragedy that the complex business of living entails Sorrow has a counterpart the other side of the coin like everything else and even if it is not visible to the eyes; like the sun the stars or the motes of dust that are suspended in the air it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist Contentment is within our hands’ reach if only we make an effort to feel itThis is the beauty of Haruf’s novels; this is the genius of his art of his vision of the world He gives enough perspective and soul to his characters to find beauty in the bigger picture even if there are some raw dark cruel dots that disturb the harmony of the physical and psychological landscape that they inhabit Generosity delicate and charming abounds in parenthesis amidst the commonplace suffering described in the pages of this novel; an unorthodox family might be possible in the imaginary plains of Holt that might reach mythical grandeur and will preserve the essential values of life Well rounded happiness is possible because there is a matching piece somewhere for every lost soul Just keep your eyes open

  10. says:

    Simply a beautiful book Holt Colorado in the 1980’sGreat characters many with personal problems to work throughTom Guthriea schoolteacher with two young boys to bring up who has a wife incapacitated by depressionVictoriaa 17 yr old schoolgirl who gets kicked out of her home by her mother when she becomes pregnantThe McPheron brothers my favorite two elderly men who’ve never been married and live together on their farm and agree to take in the pregnant Victoria to live with themThere are many other characters in this town that we get a glimpse at and their stories enter twine with the main charactersHaruf is a phenomenal writer full of compassion and understanding of the human soul