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1999 National Book Award nominee for Fiction.
Meanwhile, another teacher helps a pregnant teen disowned by her mother find love and acceptance in two hilariously well-intentioned elderly brothers. The two tentatively take the girl on as a boarder on their cattle farm even though they barely know how to communicate with anyone but each other. These seven characters form the core of Plainsong, which switches vantages from chapter to chapter like a more direct Faulkner, though the prose is no less poetic and evocative. Through this device, Haruf illustrates how relationships are formed and what makes them last, how responsibility and accountability make people good, and how cooperation can make a small town strong in times of conflict. A fast, encouraging, enlightening read, Plainsong is beautiful, real, and wise: a true great American novel.
SOURCE: VOYA, October 2000 (Vol. 23, No. 4)
"Resonant and meaningful . . . . A song of praise in honor of the lives it chronicles [and] a story about people's ability to adapt and redeem themselves, to heal the wounds of isolation by moving, gropingly and imperfectly, toward community." --Richard Tillinghast, The Washington Post Book World
"A compelling and compassionate novel. . . . [With] his sheer assurance as a storyteller, [Mr. Haruf] has conjured up an entire community, and ineluctably immersed the reader in its dramas." --Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
"A work as flawlessly unified as a short story by Poe or Chekhov." --Jon Hassler, Chicago Tribune
"Haunting, virtuosic, inimitable." --Sarah Saffian, San Francisco Chronicle
"If the novelist invents a world, then Mr. Haruf has shaped a place of enormous goodness... The story itself--spare, unsentimental, rooted in action--honors the values of the community it describes." --Lisa Michaels,
"A moving look at our capacity for both pointless cruelty and simple decency, our ability to walk out of the wreckage of one family and build a stronger one where that one used to stand." --Jeff Giles, Newsweek
"A work as flawlessly unified as a short story by Poe or Chekhov." --Jon Hassler, Chicago Tribune
Here was this man Tom Guthrie in Holt standing at the back window in the kitchen of his house smoking cigarettes and looking out over the back lot where the sun was just coming up. When the sun reached the top of the windmill, for a while he watched what it was doing, that increased reddening of sunrise along the steel blades and the tail vane above the wooden platform. After a time he put out the cigarette and went upstairs and walked past the closed door behind which she lay in bed in the darkened guest room sleeping or not and went down the hall to the glassy room over the kitchen where the two boys were.
The room was an old sleeping porch with uncurtained windows on three sides, airy-looking and open, with a pinewood floor. Across the way they were still asleep, together in the same bed under the north windows, cuddled up, although it was still early fall and not yet cold. They had been sleeping in the same bed for the past month and now the older boy had one hand stretched above his brother's head as if he hoped to shove something away and thereby save them both. They were nine and ten, with dark brown hair and unmarked faces, and cheeks that were still as pure and dear as a girl's.
Outside the house the wind came up suddenly out of the west and the tail vane turned with it and the blades of the windmill spun in a red whir, then the wind died down and the blades slowed and stopped.
You boys better come on, Guthrie said.
He watched their faces, standing at the foot of the bed in his bathrobe. A tall man with thinning black hair, wearing glasses. The older boy drew back his hand and they settled deeper under the cover. One of them sighed comfortably.
Come on now.
You too, Bobby.
He looked out the window. The sun was higher, the light beginning to slide down the ladder of the windmill, brightening it, making rungs of rose-gold.
When he turned again to the bed he saw by the change in their faces that they were awake now. He went out into the hall again past the closed door and on into the bathroom and shaved and rinsed his face and went back to the bedroom at the front of the house whose high windows overlooked Railroad Street and brought out shirt and pants from the closet and laid them out on the bed and took off his robe and got dressed. When he returned to the hallway he could hear them talking in their room, their voices thin and clear, already discussing something, first one then the other, intermittent, the early morning matter-of-fact voices of little boys out of the presence of adults. He went downstairs.
Ten minutes later when they entered the kitchen he was standing at the gas stove stirring eggs in a black cast-iron skillet. He turned to look at them. They sat down at the wood table by the window.
Didn't you boys hear the train this morning?
Yes, Ike said.
You should have gotten up then.
Well, Bobby said. We were tired.
That's because you don't go to bed at night.
We go to bed.
But you don't go to sleep. I can hear you back there talking and fooling around.
They watched their father out of identical blue eyes. Though there was a year between them they might have been twins. They'd put on blue jeans and flannel shirts and their dark hair was uncombed and fallen identically over their unmarked foreheads. They sat waiting for breakfast and appeared to be only half awake.
Guthrie brought two thick crockery plates of steaming eggs and buttered toast to the table and set them down and the boys spread jelly on the toast and began to eat at once, automatically, chewing, leaning forward over their plates. He carried two glasses of milk to the table.
He stood over the table watching them eat. I have to go to school early this morning, he said. I'll be leaving in a minute.
Aren't you going to eat breakfast with us? Ike said. He stopped chewing momentarily and looked up.
I can't this morning. He recrossed the room and set the skillet in the sink and ran water into it.
Why do you have to go to school so early?
I have to see Lloyd Crowder about somebody.
Who is it?
A boy in American history.
What'd he do? Bobby said. Look off somebody's paper?
Not yet. I don't doubt that'll be next, the way he's going.
Ike picked at something in his eggs and put it at the rim of his plate. He looked up again. But Dad, he said.
Isn't Mother coming down today either?
I don't know, Guthrie said. I can't say what she'll do. But you shouldn't worry. Try not to. It'll be all right. It doesn't have anything to do with you.
He looked at them closely. They had stopped eating altogether and were staring out the window toward the barn and corral where the two horses were.
You better go on, he said. By the time you get done with your papers you'll be late for school.
He went upstairs once more. In the bedroom he removed a sweater from the chest of drawers and put it on and went down the hall and stopped in front of the closed door. He stood listening but there was no sound from inside. When he stepped into the room it was almost dark, with a feeling of being hushed and forbidding as in the sanctuary of an empty church after the funeral of a woman who had died too soon, a sudden impression of static air and unnatural quiet. The shades on the two windows were drawn down completely to the sill. He stood looking at her. Ella. Who lay in the bed with her eyes closed. He could just make out her face in the halflight, her face as pale as schoolhouse chalk and her fair hair massed and untended, fallen over her cheeks and thin neck, hiding that much of her. Looking at her, he couldn't say if she was asleep or not, but he believed she was not. He believed she was only waiting to hear what he had come in for, and then for him to leave.
Do you want anything? he said.
She didn't bother to open her eyes. He waited. He looked around the room. She had not yet changed the chrysanthemums in the vase on the chest of drawers and there was an odor rising from the stale water in the vase. He wondered that she didn't smell it. What was she thinking about.
Then I'll see you tonight, he said.
He waited. There was still no movement.
All right, he said. He stepped back into the hall and pulled the door shut and went on down the stairs.
As soon as he was gone she turned in the bed and looked toward the door. Her eyes were intense, wide-awake, outsized. After a moment she turned again in the bed and studied the two thin pencils of light shining in at the edge of the window shade. There were fine dust motes swimming in the dimly lighted air like tiny creatures underwater, but in a moment she closed her eyes again. She folded her arm across her face and lay unmoving as though asleep.
Downstairs, passing through the house, Guthrie could hear the two boys talking in the kitchen, their voices clear, high-pitched, animated again. He stopped for a minute to listen. Something to do with school. Some boy saying this and this too and another one, the other boy, saying it wasn't any of that either because he knew better, on the gravel playground out back of school. He went outside across the porch and across the drive toward the pickup. A faded red Dodge with a deep dent in the left rear fender. The weather was clear, the day was bright and still early and the air felt fresh and sharp, and Guthrie had a brief feeling of uplift and hopefulness. He took a cigarette from his pocket and lit it and stood for a moment looking at the silver poplar tree. Then he got into the pickup and cranked it and drove out of the drive onto Railroad Street and headed up the five or six blocks toward Main. Behind him the pickup lifted a powdery plume from the road and the suspended dust shone like bright flecks of gold in the sun.
Copyright© 1999 by Kent Haruf. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
2. How does the small town of Holt figure as a character in each novel? How are the characters in each of the novels completely believable and different? How does Haruf repeat some character traits in his novels and to what effect? How do the characters and the image of the town change from book to book?
Posted October 26, 2009
A inside look at small town life is exactly what you get from Plainsong, a novel by Kent Haruf. Holt, Colorado is a typical small town with its fair share of drama and problems. This story of unlikely friends brought together by their family problems is heartwarming and will leave you wanting more.
At first glance Holt might seem like the perfect small town, but at a closer look you will see that it has a set of problems. A pregnant teen that gets kicked out of her house and Tom Guthrie's wife leaving him to raise two young boys on his own a just a couple of difficulties the town experiences. Luckily there are people with big hearts to help them out.
Maggie Jones offers Victoria a place to stay, but after her father and Victoria have a conflict it is clear it isn't going to work. So Raymond and Harold McPherons offer for her to go stay with them. It is a weird considering that the McPherons brothers are old farmers that had never lived with a girl except their mother who died when they were young. The relationship they form is what makes this story heartwarming and inspirational.
Another odd relationship that is formed is between the Guthrie boys and an old lady that lives in an apartment. After their mother leaves them she is one of the few women that they have in their lives. She enjoys the boys company because she doesn't have any other visitors. They form a great relationship that helps the boys through the tough time in their lives. In the little town when things seem like they are falling apart it seems like there is always someone there to catch it, but can it stay that way forever?
Overall, Plainsong is an excellent book that people that like to learn about small town life would love. The story is heartwarming, inspirational and can provide hope to people that are at a tough point in their life.
4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 23, 2008
My library is one that does not have alot of good books. Most of them are stupid, secular books that have no theme and no character devolopment. When I read the info on what this book was about, I literally thought to myself, 'Ok, this is going to be one of the rare books that is pretty good and well-written.' Well, about four chapters into the book, I realized that this book was the same, if not worse, than the others. I guess maybe I'm being paranoid, but it had every bad word in the English language multiple times. Almost all of the book dealt with adult content that young adults should not be reading, and there was absolutely nothing to learn. The characters had no development, there was no real plot, and even though I read it in one day, I can say that this is one that I will talk to my library about removing to save all the other teens from reading a book that is not worth reading.
3 out of 13 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 28, 2012
This book is so quiet and spare that it took a while to fall into it's rhythm. Once I did, I was up reading it to the end. It reminded me of the best short stories, those that make every word and gesture count. No action to speak of, just a small cast of characters who you know about as well as anyone else does by the end of the book. Intimate and enchanting. As soon as I finished I was out looking to see what else he'd written.
2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 18, 2008
This book is amazing, you feel the way the characters feel, the book is brought to life. The story is one that many girls face when becoming pregnant at an early age this book can give them hope that even in the worst situations you survive and endure way more than expected.
1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 7, 2014
Posted December 29, 2013
Some interpret the word "simple" in a derogatory manner, but I use it here as a high compliment. I appreciate authors who can tell a story in a clean, clear concise manner, and this book does that. It's such a sweet, kind and graceful tale of everyday people experiencing everyday life. I gave this book as a gift for Christmas, and I have given it on other occasions as well. The sequel is also wonderful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 13, 2013
Posted April 29, 2013
Plainsong By Kent Haruf
cross posted to Share A Shelf
The good reads just continue for this month! Spectacular recommendations I've had for books. I will say that this is tagged funny, however I am not at all sure why.
Like a comfortable old shoe I immersed myself in Holt County in this wonderful book by Kent Haruf. The title says a lot about the book. One definition of Plainsong is any simple unadorned melody or air. Holt is simplicity, an unadorned place on the map. Plainsong can also mean a chant that builds and that also happens here, a crying out from the people of Holt.
This is a story of different people living in the same area dealing with the complexities of even their simple lives. This is farming country, things are handled simply and no one wants to bother anyone with their troubles. Some don't even know what it is they needed or lacked until someone comes along and they realize. There is a pregnant 17 year old who has been disowned by her mother. A teacher who is lonely and his two young boys who have been left by their wife and mother. Two old farming bachelors who are set in their ways discover there is room for a change even 17 miles from anywhere.
This is a poignant novel, you feel for this place and these lives that are contained there. I couldn't put it down. It transported me back to my childhood and rural country. To a simpler time and age. There were still problems of course and there always will be but it felt good remembering how that life was and how much I miss it.
Posted February 19, 2013
Posted December 25, 2012
Posted April 27, 2012
This book was pick for reading in our book club. I felt it was okay. I held my attention however, it did not seem to develope the characters in the book to a great degree. I would not have chosen this book to read if it had not been in our book club. I also thought for the content of the book it was a bit expensive.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 30, 2012
Posted November 29, 2010
This was my first read from Kent Haruf. The hardships and happiness in this novel are believable and well built (there's got to be a better word... it's just GREAT!). Being from a small midwest town myself, I was amazed by the details that were placed perfectly. This book is a great read and you will not want to put it down.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Very much a northern, small town, midwestern story. It is a story in "black and white." Not colorful. But.....it is the way people live, think, problem solve up there. A sweet story with realistic events.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 3, 2009
Posted April 21, 2009
Holt is a small town in eastern Colorado where young boys on bicycles deliver papers in the early morning hours and collect each month from their patrons. It's a place where everyone knows everyone and where their problems and their successes become the main topic of conversation among the citizens. The "good" guys are: Tom Guthrie a conscientious high school teacher; his two young boys who long for their mother, lost in a deep depression; Victoria a shy, pregnant seventeen-year-old girl, whose mother has kicked her out of her home; two old farmer brothers, Raymond and Harold, openhearted and generous, who have lived together all of their lives; Maggie Jones, also openhearted and generous, also a high school teacher who cares for her aged father stricken with a form of dementia; and the old lady who lives and dies in her apartment above the barbershop. The "bad" guys in this story are: the father of the baby, Victoria carries; the local barber who has a tight, mean heart; the spoiled-rotten high school boy and his parents who enable their son to be a failure; the pregnant girl's mother; and the boys' aunt, sister to their mother, so insensitive as to be cruel.
In this story of fragmented lives intertwined, we see how even non-related people can become family. Plainsong, also now a movie, is an excellent story. Eunice Boeve, Author of Ride a Shadowed Trail
Posted September 3, 2008
So good, I read about a third of the book in one sitting and had to tear myself away to make it last longer. The characters to begin with, play at the readers heartstrings and only grow into more deeply lovable characters, flaws and all. This book deals with real issues but manages not to focus solely on the tragedy and mistakes made but that some good can come out of their troubles. I didn't want it to end.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 7, 2008
I just recently discovered Kent Haruf's books. His writing is amazing..would compare him with Elizabeth Berg and Pat Conroy. I certainly hope he is at work on another book. Would recommend this author to anyone who totally enjoys reading.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 8, 2008
Outstanding book. Written beautifully, yet a storyline one cannot put down - a rare combination. As a total 'city kid' I thought I couldn't relate to these mid-western characters they are people and characters so deep yet easy to understand, that you won't be able to put it down and will suddenly wish you actually knew your neighbors.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 23, 2007
One of my favorite reads for a long time. The author's writing style seems deceptively simple, yet he conveys so very much reality, in its beauty and in its pain. I fell in love with the McPherons, and found myself wishing they were my 'grandfathers!' I'm not sure how this book could have been longer, but I wish it had been.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.