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Plainsong [Paperback]

Kent Haruf
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)

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Book Description

3 Feb 2006
Set in Colorado in the 1980s, Plainsong tells the story of various Holt residents. There's teenager Victoria Roubideaux, pregnant and homeless, taken in by two ageing, shy and somewhat taciturn cattle-farming brothers -- and the changes wrought in all their lives as a result. Then there's high-school teacher and single-father, Tom Gutherie, who has two sons, Ike and Bobby, and a second chance at romance in the shape of colleague Maggie Jones. Filled with unforgettable characters, Plainsong is both convincing and compelling; a glorious, eloquent waltz of a novel. 'Like all the best novels, Plainsong takes you into a world that is at once real and vividly imagined. Here is a poetry of landscape, a tender and passionate evocation of ordinary people in majestic country . . . written with a kind of compassion that makes it ultimately powerfully uplifting' Niall Williams 'With its gentle touch and simple, precise prose, Haruf's novel scores a direct hit on his readers' hearts. Plainsong is a perfectly formed, beautifully executed piece of writing that will stay with you long after you reluctantly put it down' Mariella Frostrup, Mail on Sunday In Holt, Colorado, Tom Guthrie is struggling to bring up his two young sons alone. In the same town, school girl Victoria Roubideaux finds herself pregnant and homeless. Whilst Tom’s sons find their way forward without their mother, quiet and gentle Harold and Raymond McPheron agree to take Victoria in, unaware that their lives are about to change forever. A novel of haunting beauty, Plainsong explores the grace and hope of every human life and mankind’s infinity capacity for love.

Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; New Ed edition (3 Feb 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0330393146
  • ISBN-13: 978-0330393140
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 367,560 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Amazon Review

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, plot wise; 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. --Mary Park


‘Perfectly formed, beautifully executed’ Mariella Frostrup

‘Beautifully crafted, alive and quietly magnificent. I read it in one mesmerising sitting. I had no choice; it wouldn't let me go’ Roddy Doyle

‘Plainsong is nothing short of a revelation. I don't expect to read a better novel this year. Or next, for that matter.’ Richard Russo

‘So delicate and lovely that it has the power to exalt the reader’ New York Times

‘Satisfying and warm, Plainsong is as purehearted a novel as they come’ Austin Chronicle

‘Plainsong becomes a story of mythic proportion, and not just a story about a small town in the American West, but a story of universal concern. Our story’ Boston Review

‘I’ve had the delightful experience once again of becoming so absorbed in a book that I couldn’t have slowed down if I tried. The book is Kent Haruf ’s Plainsong, the most controlled, cohesive novel I’ve come across in a long time. By this I mean that its various elements – character, setting, plot, language, even the names, even the title – all add up to a work as flawlessly unified as a short story by Poe or Chekhov . . . At certain points I was horrified by the austerity of the isolated lives in this story, and yet on every page I savoured the beauty of the telling’ Chicago Tribune

‘Plainsong is a beauty, as spare and heartbreaking as an abandoned homestead cabin, always tough but humane, never sentimental. I loved the prose, as bright and hard as the winter sun sparkling off a sandy snow bank; and the characters, scrubbed to their essentials by the extremes of the Great Plains weather. It’s a story that draws the reader like a heat mirage’ James Crumley

‘True to the country he writes about, Haruf builds his characters out of small gestures and daily rituals, not dialogue. Theirs is a deep language, like the rumble before an earthquake’ L.A. Times

‘[Haruf] writes with a plainspoken, hardscrabble edge that saves his story from sentimentality. It’s a noun-and-verb-only style that’s part Russell Banks, part Raymond Carver, but altogether his own . . . Kent Haruf ’s splendid Plainsong succeeds beautifully. Elegant in its simplicity, elemental in its power, it arouses deep and hard-earned emotions’ Newsday

‘Like all the best novels, Plainsong takes you into a world that is at once real and vividly imagined. Here is a poetry of landscape, a tender and passionate evocation of ordinary people in majestic country. It is a novel of the young and old, of the bonds that bind us to each other, and written with a kind of compassion that makes it ultimately powerfully uplifting’ Niall Williams

‘Plainsong is a well-crafted investigation into how disparate voices, each unique and interconnected, can come together in the most unlikely of circumstances . . . Haruf offers a fresh approach by creating layers which intensify and deepen as the novel progresses, alternating between each character’s life at every chapter’ Observer

‘With deftness and precision, Plainsong orchestrates the overlapping lives of these and other characters . . . Haruf ’s descriptions are sublime in their exacting simplicity . . . A beautiful, contemporary novel that reads very much like a story from another time’ Philadelphia Inquirer

‘Holt, Colorado, a tiny prairie community near Denver, is both the setting for and the psychological matrix of Haruf ’s beautifully executed new novel . . . Walking a tightrope of restrained design, Haruf steers clear of sentimentality and melodrama while constructing a taut narrative in which revelations of character and rising emotional tensions are held in perfect balance. This is a compelling story of grief, bereavement, loneliness and anger, but also of kindness, benevolence, love and the making of a strange new family’ Publishers Weekly

'Ken Haruf's prose murmurs a haunting melody through the intertwined lives of a Colorado community. It is a simple tale of life, death, love and hatred' The Times

‘A lovely read, illuminated by sparks of spare beauty’ Time

‘It’s written in a flat, palms-on-the-table style, which effectively suppresses what could have been sentimental in the story. Plenty to gulp over still, though. A first-rate, old-fashioned read’ Time Out

‘Plainsong is the unisonous austere chant of a church service, and the hundreds of thousands of fans of this book have been nothing less than devotional in their praise of Kent Haruf ’ Times Literary Supplement

‘The emotional register of Plainsong, though kept in check by understatement and a stoic approach to the vicissitudes of life, is powerful. And Haruf works a quiet magic in the way he fits his characters’ lives in with the landscape and weather that surround them’ Washington Post Book World

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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First Sentence
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. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Modern American Writing at its best 31 Aug 2000
By A Customer
Plainsong is a modern American classic that sits comfortably in the company of works by Steinbeck and Hemmingway through to Richard Ford. It is a simple story that captures effortlessly the day to day struggles of its principal characters set against a rugged landscape that is ever brooding in the background. The book avoids sentimentality as it carefully draws you closer to superbly drawn out characters. For lovers of modern American writing, this book is a must. You will not be disappointed.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beauty in simplicity 18 Feb 2006
If you want thrill, this is not the book for you. It does just what it suggests on the cover and the title - it is a layering together of simple stories in an ordinary way that in its ensemble makes a beautiful melody of the lives involved. This is a book of heart and soul told in a beautiful lyrical fashion. Sure the plot is thin and that's part of the beauty - everyday life isn't jampacked with adventure. Just let the words and the characters wash over you.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Couldn't put it down. 20 Jun 2010
I started reading this yesterday morning and finished it this morning. It is a 'must' read and throughly enjoyable.

Although it doesn't have a vast story, it deals mainly with two sets of brothers x 1 pair elderly, the others young.

A man whose wife is sick, through some sort of depression, with two sons she clearly loves but cannot live with. Her husband the schoolteacher who has problems of his own in the classroom as well as at home.

Two elderly men who take in a girl because she needs a home and grow to accept her and her situation and the girl herself who realises life's mistakes go hand in hand with kindness.

I loved the banter between the two older brothers and was sorry that the book ended. It really was a totally different read for me and I must say I loved it.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must read 5 April 2001
By A Customer
Plainsong is quite simply a must read book. Although you can't buy his other novels in the UK order them in from .com as they even surpass this brilliant book. As other people have reviewed on the hardback this is a book that will make you laugh outloud in parts (and I mean outloud) and break your heart at the same time. This is masterful storytelling - you are in awe of it! This book deserves the same kind of success as Angela's Ashes and Memoirs of a Geisha - read it and like me press it onto every friend you have - they will thank you for it!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a magical book you should read! 12 Oct 2000
By A Customer
I loved this book - it made me laugh out loud, its beautifully written, poignant and wry. The only drawback was that it ended. If you like E Annie Proulx you should read this. And then you should go buy Kent Haruf's other novel, "Where You Once Belonged", which is also outstanding. He sure knows how to unravel a quirky story this man. Get to it.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best books I have read this year 18 Mar 2001
Kent Haruf has a style of writing that draws you into this book , I couldn't put it down.It was like watching a good movie.The characters were so real.I bought his other 2 books straight away on the strength of Plainsong.An inspiring Author who has become one of my favourites.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Lovely book 13 Feb 2014
By Wren
This was a beautifully written book, intertwining the stories of the seven main characters. I felt empathy for each character and their particular place in the world and loved how each of their lives touched off each other in a positive and profound way.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Deceptively Simple 5 Jun 2013
By caro
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
The different stories of the characters are told without emotion or over dramatic description. Each individual story ends up linking with another describing mundane incidents with such clarity that you keep reading just to find out how the different strands willl be bought together or indeed if they will. A snapshot of ordinary people's lives which ended without ceremony and without any final conclusions (slightly to my disappointment) but the book is nonetheless strangely satisfying.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars beautiful, honest simplicity
The story weaves the lives of disparate characters together. The way that those lives touch & interact is by tuns surprising, heart-warming & moving. An excellent read.
Published 24 days ago by MadaboutRadley
4.0 out of 5 stars Smalltown idealized
A simple tale, finely written, with lots of 'feel good' relationships. I think this is the most undemanding and enjoyable of the trilogy.
Published 1 month ago by sniper
4.0 out of 5 stars The extraordinary ordinary
Ordinary lives and events made absorbing by a persuasive authorial voice and a humane vision. Looking forward to reading the rest of the trilogy.
Published 2 months ago by Fitzalto
5.0 out of 5 stars PLAINSONG
My introduction to Haruf who gave a insight into everyday life in small town America and how it is changing. Read more
Published 3 months ago by J.E.REYNOLDS
5.0 out of 5 stars Magical
I am thrilled to have discovered Kent Haruf. I feel as it I have been searching all my life for a writer so satisfying in his characterisations and detailed descriptive plot. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Macc Lass
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful author I didn't know.
This is a beautiful, understated novel about people living in a fictional town on the plains of America. Two young boys, their father, a young woman, two old farmer brothers ... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Harriet Grace
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful
This was a book in which not a lot happened but nevertheless drew you in to the lives of a group of people living in small town America. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Craig Napier
5.0 out of 5 stars Lovely book
Well written, thoughtful and provocative. Conveys a sense of place and character. I look forward to reading more of his works.
Published 4 months ago by Finn the Cool
5.0 out of 5 stars A novel of rare love and humanity
Plainsong is written by that rarest of people: a modern novelists who loves people. Haruf sees us as we are, weak at times, self-serving or thoughtless - but he also sees the... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Richard Waverley
5.0 out of 5 stars one of my all time favourite novels
as the review title. It's gentle, slightly whimsical and rather beautiful. One I'll re-read many times. I'd not read any of Haruf's work before, but highly recommend.
Published 4 months ago by Katua
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