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.
This is a re-read for me, and I think I'm going to hang on to it for a re-read later too! Too bad we don't hear more about these type of stories in real life!!
A very diverse and small group of people help a pregnant girl with no hope gain some, and come together as an extended family with actual and emotional support. LOVE the brothers!!
Beautifully written and narrated by Tom Stechschulte, Plainsong is a lovely, character driven novel about small town life and family. It starts slowly but once you get past the first third of the book, the story will capture your heart. I intend to look into Haruf's backlist. Highly recommend.
Plainsong, according to Kent Haruf's epigraph, is "any simple and unadorned melody or air." It's a perfect description of this lovely, rough-edged book, set on the very edge of the Colorado plains. Tom Guthrie is a high school teacher whose wife can't--or won't--get out of bed; the McPherons are two bachelor brothers who know little about the world beyond their farm gate; Victoria Roubideaux is a pregnant 17-year-old with no place to turn. Their lives parallel each other in much the same way any small-town lives would--until Maggie Jones, another teacher, makes them intersect. Even as she tries to draw Guthrie out of his black cloud, she sends Victoria to live with the two elderly McPheron brothers, who know far more about cattle than about teenage girls. Trying to console her when she think she's hurt her baby, the best lie they can come up with is this: "I knew of a heifer we had one time that was carrying a calf, and she got a length of fencewire down her some way and it never hurt her or the calf."
Holt, Colorado, is the kind of small town where everyone knows everyone's business before that business even happens. In a way, that's true of the book, too. There's not a lot of suspense here, plotwise; you can see each narrative twist and turn coming several miles down the pike. What Plainsong has instead is note-perfect dialogue, surrounded by prose that's straightforward yet rich in particulars: "a woman walking a white lapdog on a piece of ribbon," glimpsed from a car window; the boys' mother, her face "as pale as schoolhouse chalk"; the smells of hay and manure, the variations of prairie light. Even the novel's larger questions are sized to a domestic scale. Will Guthrie find love? Will Victoria run away with the father of her baby? Will the McPherons learn to hold a conversation? But in this case, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and Plainsong manages to capture nothing less than an entire world--fencing pliers, calf-pullers, and all. Kent Haruf has a gorgeous ear, and a knack for rendering the simple complex.
"Plainsong" is possibly the most touching and one of the most memorable novels I have ever read. This is an absolutely lovely story that reassures one of the underlying good in human nature. This one stays with you long after finishing the last page.
Book is somewhat slow moving, but that could be a positive or negative depending on the reader's mood. Covers life in a small town from both child and adult perspectives. I felt like a couple of important clashes between various characters/families weren't adequately brought to fruition, but I enjoyed the book and would probably recommend it. Incidentally, I was reading Kingsolver's _Animal Dreams_ at the same time I was reading this one. The mood is very similar, and I don't think either one is better or worse than the other.
Ambitious, but never seeming so, Kent Haruf reveals a whole community as he interweaves the stories of a pregnant high school girl, a lonely teacher, a pair of boys abandoned by their mother, and a couple of crusty bachelor farmers. From simple elements, Haruf achieves a novel of wisdom and grace--a narrative that builds in strength and feeling until, as in a choral chant, the voices in the book surround, transport, and lift the reader off the ground."
I would echo the NYTs book review: delicate, lovely - very real. Was not sure I could get into the simplicity of the prose, sparseness of spoken words, so much feeling left unspoken by the characters...yet this is a beautifully written book full of emotional depth. Highly recommend.
Beautiful story about well-developed characters. It's not a story about events, but more of a portrait of very real characters who are just trying to do their best and live their lives. I enjoyed reading it and look forward to reading the sequel.
I thought this book was wonderful in its simple prose. None the less, the characters and community are well developed. About healing wounds, and adapting to changes in s small town. I will definitely be reading more of his books.
Haruf's writing reminded me of other favorite authors : Stephen King and Lawrence Block.Each chapter was about a different character or household. They all live in the same town and their stories overlapped. It was fun to piece together information about the other characters from their differing perspectives.
Haruf's writing style is spare but compelling. One of the few books this new year that kept me up all night. I'm still thinking about the characters. You're going to love Raymond and Harold; "Well, my my. My lord almighty." "I believe we have just doubled our womenfolk."
This author's strength lies in developing his characters and making us actually care what happens to them. And he accomplishes this feat with spare prose as he describes scenes and conversations from the Every Day of the every day world. A rare talent! When the pregnant high school girl was locked out of her house by her mother, I felt it viscerally. I could sense how cold and dark it was on that porch. And I've never been a pregnant high school girl, or been deliberately locked out by anyone!
A mixed lot of characters, some good & some bad. The main characters lives aren't all warm and fuzzy, they hit some bumps in the road, use some poor judgment but eventually the good guys find eachother.
Ambitious, but never seeming so, Kent Haruf reveals a whole community as he interweaves the stories of a pregnant high school girl, a lonely teacher, a pair of boys abandoned by their mother and a couple of crusty bachelor farmers. A compelling and compassionate novel
I loved this book.Great story about small town living and how people come together to help one another. I think the 2 old farmers were my favorite characters,it was very sweet how they became so attached to the pregnant teen and her baby.
Ambitious, but never seeming so, Kent Haruf reveals a whole community as he interweaves the stories of a pregnant high school girl, a lonely teacher, a pair of boyd abandoned by their mother, and a couple of crusty bachelor farmers.
Definately a wonderful read, loved how the prose just get moving on and I completely fell for the Old McPheron brothers. Looking forward to picking up the sequel EVENTIDE and reading more about these people.
This is one of my favorite books to listen to. Much of the credit goes to the reader, Tom Stechshulte. Tom Stechshulte is the best reader of audiobooks on the planet. He could read an autobiography of Rush Limbaugh or Ted Cruz and I would listen, and I am a Democrat!
Fine, beautifully simple tale that intertwines the destinies of a pregnant high school girl, a pair of bachelor farmers, and a high school teacher struggling with the collapse of his marriage and the task of raising two boys on his own.
In my opinion, this is an adult book with adult content. I have seen many young teens reading this book. There was some strong language and some sex scenes. The story line seemed a bit patchy to me as well.
I didn't expect there to be graphic detail about sex before even the first 1/4th of the book. I was disappointed. The reviews talked about family, but didn't include this. I may be an old "fuddy-duddy" but that's not for me.
A New York Times Notable Book. A New Yorker Book Award Finalist. "Haruf reveals a whole community as he interweaves the stories of a pregnant high school girl, a lonely teacher, a pair of boys abandoned by their mother, and a couple of crusty bachelors."
ambitious but never seeming so kent haruf reveals a whole community as he intrveavs the stories of a pregnant high school girl,a lonely tecaher, apair of boys abandoned by their mother,and a couple of crusty bachelor farmers. from simple elements,haruf avhieves a novell of widom and grace.