Plainsong (Plainsong 1) Paperback – 11 Apr 2013
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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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
‘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 See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.
Should you be coming to this by way of Kent Haruf’s last and highly acclaimed novel, 'Our Souls At Night', I'd urge you to read this too as it has a similar sensibility, documenting the lives of ordinary people with acuity and pared back prose. Haruf has to be one of the kindest - if not *the* kindest - author I've yet read. Nonetheless he is utterly unsentimental; there's no sugar or puff here - bad things happen to good people, as they often do.
There’s one more plus, if you’re a writer (as I am), because alongside the sheer pleasure of discovering a storyteller with an acute eye, a generous heart and a gift for language, to read such beautiful prose opens a door too, as only by reading those we admire and want to learn from can we grow and stretch ourselves. In any event, if you like your novels to touch the soul, then Plainsong will appeal to you.
Haruf tells of the lives of a small group of people living in Holt, such a place in Colorado. The style is deceptively simple; actions are described in great detail that in other writers might seem excessive, but which here I found mesmerizing. Speech is often laconic (there are no speech marks), and completely fit for purpose.
Some of the descriptions are of totally mundane things which have nothing much to do with plot-lines, but are simply observations of everyday behaviour; others have a more dramatic content - some painfully so.
The chief characters are:
- Tom Guthrie, a school-teacher (but who can also help farmers in probing cows to see whether they are with calf). His marriage has broken down and his depressed wife has left him to stay with her sister in Denver.
- Their two young sons, Ike and Bobby, aged ten and eight. They are very close and do everything together. They deliver papers before going to school and are in some ways rather grown up and sturdy little characters. They miss their mother, but visits to her are not a success.
- The brothers Raymond and Harold McPheron, weather-beaten and rather taciturn old cattle farmers - wonderful characterization.
- Victoria Roubideaux, a school-girl of seventeen whose mother turns her out of her home when she finds that the girl is pregnant.
Victoria’s schoolmistress has her staying with her for a while, but when there are reasons why can no longer do this, she manages, surprisingly, to persuade the McPheron brothers - nervous though these are of what that would do to their lives, to take her in.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
The book draws you in and I could not stop reading until the end. There are 2 strands,Guthrie and his 2 sons and Victoria a young girl who has fallen pregnant while still at... Read morePublished 7 days ago by Arlene Beare UK
It took me a while to engage with the characters, I found the descriptive writing tangled and too intricate, but my goodness, by stealth, each life (and death) crept into my... Read morePublished 26 days ago by useit
A bit less than I expected after reading the reviews, nonetheless a page turner…I have bought the follow ups in the hope of something better.Published 1 month ago by peter mackey
Heartbreakingly simple and beautiful. I think I cried. No, I'm sure I did. So will you when you read it.Published 1 month ago by Bryony Doran
Gentle, quiet, real visit to real people, sharing the challenge of life, and the goodness of the human heartPublished 2 months ago by Marianne Knuth
Spare, unsentimental yet tender. In parts evoked laughter, in parts evoked tears and in parts so uncompromising I wanted to look away. Such a beautiful, un-put-downable book.Published 2 months ago by jj
Wonderful gentle, wise portrait of people in a small town in Colorado living their lives. Beautiful writing - every sentence a gem.Published 3 months ago by A. du Plessis
Good, well told tale. Pulls yo u / into a different world where you can feel good people still exist.Published 3 months ago by carolyn fairclough