Plainsong by Kent Haruf

   Plainsong

   Kent Haruf

   Vintage (2000)

   Trade Paperback – 301 pgs.

   National Book Award Finalist

   4 stars

This plainly told, yet elegant story of a small town on the Colorado prairies gives an honest look at the trials and triumphs of regular people.  Tom Guthrie is a high school American History teacher contending with failing the school bully while raising two sons alone. Ike and Bobby are good kids who know the town inside but their insatiable curiosity leads them into trouble many a time.

Victoria is a seventeen year old pregnant high schooler who was kicked out of her home.  Kindly Maggie Jones takes the girl in but her own father’s dementia and sudden outbursts makes it unsafe for her to stay. Maggie turns to bachelor brothers Harold and Raymond McPheron who for the last half century worked their ranch seventeen miles outside of town. Their isolated world will soon become center stage for the many good people who inhabit the town of Holt.

Lovely heart-warming stories are difficult to pull off.  Plainsong worked so beautifully because it never turned sappy. The town of Holt has its share of mean and nasty characters and not everything was resolved when the curtain dropped.

I loved Harold and Raymond who reminded me of the eccentric old brothers of Secondhand Lions, minus Garth’s extraordinary storytelling abilities. They were just as hilarious however, when trying to make conversation with their new teenaged houseguest by explaining pork bellies prices along with other market complexities.

That’s right, Harold said. They’re touted on the market too. So anyway, he said, looking at the girl. Now do you see?  She looked from one old man to the other. They were waiting, watching for some reaction, as if they’d been laying out the intricacies of some last will and testament or perhaps the necessary precautions to take against the onset of fatal disease and the contagion of plague.

Haruf takes exactly the right tone for a small town tale. He never idealizes nor condemns its condition. Rather, he takes it for what it is, both good and bad.

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6 Responses

  1. Thank you for your thoughtful review, Jaimie. This is one I definitely do want to read. I am glad you enjoyed it.

  2. I really enjoyed this one, too. Haruf does a marvelous job of conveying a sense of place and has terrific characters that are so true to that environment.

  3. I hope to read this too, Jaimie. Thanks for the review!

  4. Thanks Alice, I hope you enjoy it!

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