The setting is the small town of Holtâlocated in the prairie not too far from Denver. The type of town where people know each other's business and papers are still delivered by boys on bicycles. Yet as much as people know you in a small town, they don't really know you or what goes on behind closed doors or closed mouths. In this small community, we get inside the minds and lives of several Holt residentsâall of whom are suffering from some form of loneliness, sadness or isolation.
* Tom Guthrieâa teacher at the local high school whose wife has become distant and unreachable
* Ike and BobbyâGuthrie's two sons, who are confused by their mother's distance and looking for a way to recapture her love and attention
* Victoria Roubideauxâa high school girl who finds herself pregnant and cast out of her home by her mother
* The McPheron Brothersâtwo older bachelor brothers who live on a farm outside of Holt and keep mostly to themselves.
* Maggie Jonesâa single woman who teaches with Guthrie and cares for her elderly father and serves as the glue that begins to bind these individuals together.
Each of these characters alone has a voice that is aching to be heard and understood. And as they move ever closer together to form a type of family of their own, their voices and lives begin to intertwine and harmonize together in a way that is true, touching and beautiful.
At the start of the book, Kent Haruf provides the definition of plainsong:
The unisonous vocal music used in the Christian church from the earliest times; any simple and unadorned melody or air (e.g., Gregorian chant is type of plainsong).
I didn't fully appreciate the meaning of the title until the end of the book. But upon finishing the book, the title just made so much sense and was so fitting. In the book, each of the character's individual lives comes together to become part of a bigger wholeâwith each voice complementing and harmonizing with the other voices. At its heart, this book is about seeing a new community being formed from lives that were previously lived separately and parallel.
The book is both simple and subtle. It doesn't hit you over the head with things. Rather, it lets you experience the lives of the characters through simple narration and dialogue. Even the dialogue is unadorned with quotation marks (and sometimes attribution). I could see that some readers might find this book a bit slow-paced or even frustrating. But if you stick with it until the end, you'll appreciate the author's skill in giving you much more that you thought you were getting at first glance.
Frankly, I was surprised at how satisfied I was by the end of the book. I struggled to get into the story for a little bit and found the shifting viewpoints a bit off-putting at first. It was almost like drifting from character to character like a ghostâgetting a little bit here, leaving for awhile, and then coming back and getting a little more. Once you adapt to the rhythm of the book, though, it turns into a rich and rewarding read.
My Final Recommendation
I don't think this book is for everybody. If you're the type of reader who likes big, loud, obvious books (i.e., ones that read like a summer blockbuster movie like Transformers), I don't think you would care for Plainsong. However, if you're the type of reader who has patience and an appreciation for slower-building, more subtle books (i.e., ones that read like an art house film), then this book would be perfect for you. Think of Plainsong as a cup of teaâit takes time to steep and brew and you drink it slowly but, at the end, you're filled with warmth and satisfaction.
And for those of you who care about such things, Plainsong was a finalist for the National Book Award.
This was a delightful read. Keeping true to its title,"Plainsong", it is written in
a plain manner - no extra frills, no extra verbage, no convoluted plots. Just a good
story with wonderfully developed characters. Days after finishing the book you think
about the characters and wonder how they are doing. It's just a plain good story
and worth your time.
A story of several 'down home' type people including a pregnant teen, and two rough but very likable bachelor farmers, two abandoned boys and more. Ralistic and sometimes sad, ends on an optimistic note.
What a fine book this is. Such a great story that evokes a time and a place so perfectly and entwines several stories seamlessly. Touching and heartwarming without being the least bit schmaltzy.