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4.6 out of 5 stars80
4.6 out of 5 stars
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on 31 August 2000
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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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on 18 February 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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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 20 June 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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 27 August 2014
This gentle and beautiful novel is one of a kind. It tells of the people of Holt, a small town in farming country. The story encompasses Guthrie, a schoolteacher and his two sons aged 9 and 10, Ike and Bobby. Also involved are the McPherons, two elderly men who protect a young girl who has been made pregnant by an out-of-towner, Victoria Roubideaux. There were moments when the beauty of the writing overwhelmed me. It is a gentle, pastoral community, but there are people within it for whom one feels an almost visceral dislike. The depiction of the boys’ childhood experiences are brilliantly handled. Their mother has withdrawn herself from the family and their naïve attempts to bring their mother back to them are heartbreaking without ever spilling over into melodrama.

Victoria’s problem is that she has fallen for the wrong man and her solution is highly individual as, after a period of taking the conventional route, she takes up residence with the McPherons, unworldly farmers who have limited lives by choice.

The experience of reading this beautiful book is profound. There were moments when I had to put the book down and think about what it was telling me. These coincided with moments of danger for Ike and Bobby, and moments of sheer terror which held me in thrall to the complex of problems faced by people. But this is a quiet book. It’s a book that demands to be read while it puts you through some uncomfortable moments. I cannot think of another book that has had such a sublime effect on me. I simply loved it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
At the outset of his 1999 novel, Kent Haruf defines "Plainsong" as "the unisonous vocal music used in the Christian church from the earliest times; any simple and unadorned melody or air". The title is appropriate for this book which combines many voices into unity. Contemporary America is a difficult time for plainsong. As Maggie Jones, one of the novel's characters observes, "these are crazy times. I sometimes believe these must be the craziest times ever."

Haruf's novel is set in a small Colorado cattle town called Holt in the vicinity of Denver. The time of the story is not made fully clear but appears to be mid-twentieth century. The story is in the third person in chapters which alternate among several characters. They include Tom Guthrie, a middle-age high school American history teacher whose troubled and estranged wife has left him. Tom is raising is two pre-adolescent sons, Ike and Bobby who also play a prominent role in this story. There is Victoria Robideaux, 17, who has become pregnant out of wedlock and whose boyfriend has abandoned her. As Victoria's story opens, her mother bars her from her home following the discovery of the pregnancy. Maggie Jones is a ubiquitous presence who does not have her own chapter. She is a high school teacher whose story becomes intertwined with Guthrie's and with Victoria's. When Victoria is turned away from home, Mollie persuades a pair of elderly bachelor brothers who live together and own a successful cattle ranch, Raymond and Harold McPheron, to take her in.

Most of the primary characters, including Guthrie, his wife, Victoria, Maggie, and the McPheron brothers lead lonely lives, as do some of the book's secondary characters. They bear troubles before and during the events related in the five months or so covered in the novel. Each character also has to deal with a good deal of enmity and wrongdoing, including the two young boys, Ike and Bobby. A sense of community and shared spirit cautiously develops.

The writing is deceptively simple in this novel. I found most striking the way in which mundane aspects of life are described in detail and in juxtaposition with the more telling aspects of the story such as an unwanted pregnancy, a broken marriage, trouble in the school, and the search for love. The life of cattle farmers, from separating pregnant animals from the others, is presented with some detail as is the process of baking oatmeal cookies in a lonely, ailing elderly woman's home. The Guthrie boys are witness to a gruesomely described autopsy of a dead horse as well as to a considerable amount of gruesome human activity. The descriptions of everyday and not so every day activities in the life or a rural town add a great deal of texture to the story.

The narrator's voice in the book contrasts with the voices of the characters. The narrator tends to speak at length in sentences which can be long and often beautifully rhythmic as he describes events and people. The characters tend to the laconic when they speak. Their dialogue is set out without the use of quotation marks. This is a relatively common device which might appear a gimmick. In this book, the device is used with purpose as it integrates the narrator's large picture of events with the perspective of each individual.

The story lines are simple but they are held together by the character development and the understated writing. I had a sense of both the hardness of life and the formation of an American community. The book is perceptive, thoughtful, and refreshingly non-ideological in a time plagued by ideology. "Plainsong" was my first experience with Kent Haruf. I enjoyed reading this fine novel.

Robin Friedman
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 5 January 2001
A truly compelling novel!It made me laugh, cry and experience every emotion in between. I loved the fact that he never explained more about the characters than absolutely necessary which for someone like me kept me alot more interested in each of them. I definitely think that it would be worth while reading this fantasatic novel!
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on 5 April 2001
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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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 18 March 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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 12 October 2000
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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on 8 September 2015
This was our book club choice for August and one that if I'm honest I wasn't really looking forward too. I expected and presumed incorrectly that it would be heavy literature with words I wouldn't understand but I was wrong; this was an easy read.

The book is set around a small group of characters from a small town in the mid-US who are all given an equal amount of air time and with each comes their own unique voice. One thing I did find odd is that there was no speech marks at all, you are aware of who is speaking; it's just not punctuated - is this a particular style of writing?

Anyway, we have generally decent people and a couple of not so nice people just doing the best that they can with the cards they've been dealt. Nothing really remarkable happens, yet that in its own way makes it remarkable. It's also hard to date, there isn't any reference to computers or mobiles so I estimated it to be set in the Eighties.

There's a little too much detail in the horse autopsy and dehorning of cows for my liking; I'm not usually squeamish but this wasn't nice.

A story of everyday life in a small town in the middle of nowhere, doesn't sound like a massively attractive book but I can assure you, you will become invested in these characters and their lives and will wonder what happens to them long after you put the book down...just as well there's a sequel! Am now quite interested to read the sequels Eventide and Benediction.
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