Thursday, June 25, 2015

Kent Haruf’s “Plainsong”

Tom Guthrie is a schoolteacher, struggling to deal with his wife leaving him and their sons.

Ike and Bobby are Tom’s sons, ten- and nine-years old, trying to understand why their mother left.

Victoria Roubideaux is a high school student, 17 and pregnant, ordered out of the house by her mother..

Raymond and Harold McPheron are aging brothers and bachelors, raising sheep.

They all live in small-town Holt, Colorado. Their lives, and those of a number of minor characters will crisscross and intersect in Plainsong, the novel by Kent Haruf (1943-2014) first published in 1999. It was the first of three novels is what is now called The Plainsong Trilogy, which includes Eventide (2004) and Benediction (2013).

Plainsong is a beautiful novel. It has an enchanting simplicity, enhanced (or perhaps resulting from) the use of simple, uncomplicated language and the absolute lack of quotation marks. Disconcerting at first, this deliberate omission serves to focus on the quiet kind of novel this is.

Kent Haruf
Quiet, but things happen. Tom experiences conflict with a student and his parents, and finds himself sought after by two women. The McPheron brothers unexpectedly welcome the pregnant Victoria into their home. The boys learn much about the town and its people from their paper route. The characters are drawn fine and well. Even the minor characters are drawn with an almost reverence.

People matter in Plainsong because they are all image bearers. They all give and experience grace.  Broken people living broken lives come together in a picture of small-town life that has likely vanished in most places. Yet it is no rose-tinted portrayal, but rather a painting of a town and its people with all their flaws, made the more beautiful because of them.

The novel was a finalist for the National Book Award for fiction.


Top photograph by Ken Kistler via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

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