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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, plotwise; 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

A heartstrong story of family and romance, tribulation and tenacity, set on the High Plains east of Denver.
In the small town of Holt, Colorado, a high school teacher is confronted with raising his two boys alone after their mother retreats first to the bedroom, then altogether. A teenage girl -- her father long since disappeared, her mother unwilling to have her in the house -- is pregnant, alone herself, with nowhere to go. And out in the country, two brothers, elderly bachelors, work the family homestead, the only world they've ever known.

From these unsettled lives emerges a vision of life, and of the town and landscape that bind them together -- their fates somehow overcoming the powerful circumstances of place and station, their confusion, curiosity, dignity and humor intact and resonant. As the milieu widens to embrace fully four generations, Kent Haruf displays an emotional and aesthetic authority to rival the past masters of a classic American tradition.

Utterly true to the rhythms and patterns of life, Plainsong is a novel to care about, believe in, and learn from.

From the Hardcover edition.

Customer Reviews:

  • Small town America
    I listened to the audiotape version of this book. I had listened to Eventide by this same author and really liked that. He has a skillful way of letting you know people and care about what happens to them without a lot of action. The books take place in a very small town in a simpler time and the caring between various characters is touching. He seems to always weave in some unexpected interaction between two characters whose stories had been presented independently up to the point that their lives intersect. Plainsong actually comes before Eventide and I enjoyed knowing how some of the people's lives had developed before I listened to this one. Minor drawback--the taping is not done well in that you aren't told when a side ends or whether that is the end of the tape or the tape needs to be reversed. Those little touches make listening easier, particularly when one listens sporadically. Highly recommended book. ...more info
  • What a great discovery: this book!!
    I found this book at a booksale and picked it up for a dollar. What a treasure!! This is one of the best books I have read in a long time. There is something in the writing style that reminds me of A Land Remembered, Gilead, and The Optimist's Daughter: if this makes any sense. Perhaps it is the straightforward descriptive style of writing that works in harmony with the characters. Whatever the secret, this book went far beyond my wildest expectations....more info
  • Plainsong: Unadorned yet piercing
    Plainsong was a recent National Book Award Finalist. The book provides a peek into the world and struggles of a few characters in a rural community. Like Sue Miller in For Love, Kent Haruf narrates at a distance. As readers, we become fly-on-the-wall observers, with little omnicience into the characters' thoughts or motivations. The beauty of Plainsong, however, is that it wears no bright plumage to convey simple truths and touching moments. The book is so bare, that the author omits quotation marks to denote speech. The book uses very basic language structure, uncomplicated plot twists, and thus fails to compromise in its symbolic simplicity. The concept of "Plainsong" is that it is "any simple and unadorned melody or air." Though the title is apt, the themes in this book are delicate, complex, and anything other than bare. It is a story of human beings struggling to come together and to help to heal each other's wounds.

    I found this book to be sweet, wise, and real. Slowly paced and shocking only in its realism, this book would not appeal to everyone. Would I recommend it? Yes. For whom? For those who seek the pure beauty of raw human interaction, humility, and grace. For those who like complex books with much action, it will probably fall a bit flat. Was it life changing? Well, yes, in a way. Even my reactions to this book are subtle. This books boils everything down to the building blocks of survival and happiness. It reveals Maslov's hierarchy in action by showing and not telling. This book helped to ground me and reminded me of what is truly important in my own life. Like my reaction to For Love by Sue Miller, my change in perception will hopefully change my actions as I stumble through each day....more info
  • A Graceful Tale
    This is a book that runs counter to our fractured hyperspeed society. It is tender. Full of sentiment without being sentimental. Plainsong is an artful piece of writing that has a pace that some can't wait for. Once it engulfed me, I was made to feel... at home. Thank you Kent Haruf....more info
  • Plainsong
    Hmmpphhh... How are there so many five-star reviews?? I just don't get it. The book's an okay read and chapter-by-chapter it is somewhat entertaining but it never comes to a conclusion. I kept waiting for it all to come together but it just didn't. What a disappointment. ...more info
  • Haruf's Plainsong--- beautiful!
    The simplicity of Plainsong is so beautiful. Haruf has created such characters, like Harold and Raymond McPheron, which this reader would want to have in her own life. The characters are also believable-each has made mistakes, learned from them, been loved, been hurt, mistreated but has survived. These characters' lives aren't anything spectacular; they are the everyday heroes and people I would much rather read about.
    The main characters: two sets of brothers, one set young, the other old, two teachers, and a pregnant high school girl, are faced with their separate trials, yet bond together, as something like a dysfunctional family.
    Too many books published currently are filled with characters who are god-like in their perfection, intellect and physique. Their trials are superficial and often unbelievable. The writing is face-paced in an obnoxious way-and for this reader at least, depressing because I am sure my life will never be that exciting.
    I find Maggie, Raymond, Harold, Victoria, Ike, Bobby, and Tom to be people I can relate to and their struggles to be real and honest. I appreciated the ending of the novel as something like a beginning: the main characters about to eat supper together, assured that they are all there for one another. I haven't read Eventide yet, but I look forward to seeing where Kent Haruf takes these characters.
    ...more info
  • A Beautiful Song of Plain Country Life
    In this wonderfully told story, Haruf shares with us a beautiful story of the decency of plain folks and the goodness of spirit residing in each of us. His simple style mimics the simple lives of his characters; not only is it an easy story to digest, it is also a delight to read. Highly recommended. ...more info
  • Excellent, captivating book overall
    As you've doubtless read in the fine Spotlight Reviews, this book explores the lives of several people in rural Holt, Colorado. These folks at first glance seem to have nothing in common, but, as often happens in small towns, their lives intersect in surprising ways. The plot moves along gently at the speed of life, and along the way, we get to know the characters and their lives intimately, just by observing what they say and do.

    For the most part, I enjoyed Mr Haruf's writing style -- spare, yet descriptive. But sometimes it seemed to me that he was in a metaphor-writing class and was getting a failing grade. Some were good, but others were dreadful and seemed forced.

    But that's my only complaint. I was drawn into these people's lives. I enjoyed watching brothers Bobby and Ike interact so lovingly; I thought the bachelor farmer brothers were hilarious. There was actually a plot without their seeming to be a plot. I'm looking forward to reading Eventide, which is the book our book club is reading this month. I had to read this one first, though, after hearing some of the same characters will be in Eventide. So pick this one up. It's short and a quick read. And if you like it, check out Eventide. Once I've finished that book, I'll report back with a review....more info
  • Wonderful Cast of Characters
    Plainsong is set in the rural community of Holt, Colorado. It's the story of a pregnant teenage girl, two lonely teachers, a pair of old bachelor brothers, and two young boys abandoned by their mother.

    I've said this many times before, but I'll say it again. I'm a huge fan of character novels. Stephen King and Richard Russo have always been my favorites, but I can now add Kent Haruf to that list. I was captivated by this story. I fell in love with the characters, especially the McPheron brothers. Haruf had no problem putting you into their lives and making you care for them. I look very forward to reading more of his books....more info
  • Astoundingly wonderful
    This novel was just superb. Plainsong has characters that catch the reader's attention early in the book and the reader grows to love them with all their quirks. Kent Haruf gives us enough insight to each of the character's stories to arouse curiosity over what he or she is going to do next. The novel is not simply based on one character but a handful. Haruf brings an amazing story to light, and his characters are simply beautiful. They are all well rounded, and completely believable. This story is a true test of how one person can grow up without a close family, and in the end find the family they always needed through other people. The ending of this book brings all the characters together, and the reader will be able to see how their stories are linked. An important lesson can be learned from this novel, that we need to understand that sometimes what we lack in life can be filled through people we least expected. Every day is a building block to something better and the ties that we allow will to bind us together.
    I will being reading more of Haruf's work as I am happy to have read a novel that I enjoyed this extensively.
    ...more info
  • A simple and unadorned melody
    Kent Haruf's "Plainsong" is a simple and satisfying story set in a small town in the high plains east of Denver. The book follows the lives of six main characters through a long dark winter and into the spring. Each of these individuals -- two pairs of brothers, a high-school girl, and a middle-aged man -- has his own cross to bear and does so with quiet determination.

    Although the author's style may strike the reader as melancholy, or even a little sappy, you'll probably find the book uplifting. Plenty of bad things happen to our protagonists, from the mundane to the serious, but each pulls through to reveal a generous and caring personality.

    "Plainsong" is a thoughtful little book written in a sparse and lucid voice. The chapters are a bit choppy and disconnected at first. But once the interrelationships are established, the story moves along much more smoothly. You may be frustrated at first, but stick with it -- "Plainsong" is worth reading to the end. My only quibbles are with punctuation (perhaps there's a good reason for not using quotation marks), a couple of loose ends at the end of the book, and some icky scenes involving farm animals. But that's nit-picky feedback for an otherwise wonderful book....more info
  • Excellent book for anyone AND for book clubs
    Every single one of the people in my book club loved this book, and we are a varied group. We all breezed right through it and looked for a sequel....more info
  • This could be nonfiction, it is so authentic.
    Like the pace of small towns themselves, this book slowly draws the reader in until one cares so deeply about the characters that you do not want to let them go.The authenticity of the action and the townspeople was such that I , living in a similar community, felt like I was evesdropping on neighbors....more info
  • Solid
    Sometimes simplicity is beauty. Plainsong is one of those times. Haruf has a talent for conveying the emotions of his characters through physical description and dialog alone. His style is reminiscent to Hemingway -- short simple sentences and plenty of detailed descriptions of nature.

    There's a nice intermingling of 2 1/2 storylines, but I found the section about Victoria and her cohabitation with two hermit brothers the most compelling piece.

    I did have a couple of minor quibbles. First, the lack of quotation marks around the dialog. I'm not sure what the point of that was. Second, the evil of a few characters seemed a bit sensationalized. Haruf was relatively even-handed with the flaws of his heros, but he seemed to neglect any redeeming characteristics in the villians.

    Overall this is still a strong effort and among the best modern novels I've read in the last couple of years....more info
  • Beautiful story!
    I purchased this book after reading all the raving reviews in the front of it. I couldn't put it down once I started. Parts of the story literally brought me to tears. The McPheron brothers were probably my favorite. They come to life off of the pages. The conversations they have with one another made me laugh and smile. I found all the characters in the book to be interesting and exactly the type of people you would find in a small town. The book was an enjoyable "getaway" from the fast paced world I live in. After I finished the book I went out and bought "Eventide" to see what happens next!!

    ...more info
    Plainsong is an interesting story, but it is more or less just a story about regular people living through tough situations. It deals with pregnancies, sex and violence, and how everyone experiences hardships over the course of life. It it just that, a Plainsong. Delving into the everyday acts of the various characters. None of them are crazy, or extraordinary in any way, but they are just like you and me. That was the best part of the story was in the way that it was real. This was not a fairy tale or fabricated tale, they were stories about men and women much like all of us. So it was quite easy to relate to them in many situations as they face the many troubles that the world has to offer. Great book to read once, but I probably won't remember a whole lot of it down the road....more info
  • How can you get past page 2?
    I was so out of breath reading "and then, and then, and then...." I couldn't read the rest of it. I stopped after: "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." (page 4, 4th paragraph) FINALLY!!! A PERIOD! WHEW! It was nothing but one continuous sentence to me! My sister enjoyed this book and wanted me to read it. I really don't think I can! I can't seem to get over the long sentences....more info
  • truly a good read
    I really enjoyed Haruf's novel, "Plainsong." The characters were intriguing and like-able. The individual stories of the characters were woven together to create a larger story in a way that was simple yet beautiful. Containing reoccurring themes of innocence lost and redemption, the novel maintained the raw element of reality throughout. The portrayal of small-town life seemed pretty accurate. The novel ended on a positive note without being overly cheesy, which is refreshing. I highly recommend this book. ...more info
  • big booklover "jmb"
    i absolutely loved this book. after i finished it, i bought the follow-up, eventide, and i loved it as well....more info
  • Good Novel
    Plainsong is a slow, marching story based in a small Colorado town. The story centers around a diverse array of characters. There is Guthrie, a school teacher whose wife is basically a ghost that wants to leave them. There is Ike and Bobby, Guthrie's two boys, who are trying to make sense of their parents' deteriorating relationship. Then there is Victoria, a teenage girl who is pregnant. After her mother kicks her out of the house, she goes to live with two elderly brothers, the McPherons, who live on a farm on the outskirts of town.

    This novel is character driven, but the characters don't exactly come to life. They are realistic, moved by their own egos, wants, desires, and needs. There are pointless story lines that do not move the plot. The characters often do foolish and boring things that aren't the norm in novels. But that is exactly what makes this story great. It is a realistic look at life in small towns, and Haruf paints a story that is more a documentary than a novel. Don't look for tense, gripping action in this book. Instead, you'll be treated to characters that are actually human.

    Plainsong is a subtly good read. The first one hundred pages are dreary and drag along, but somewhere along the way you are sucked into the lives of these small town Coloradoans and can't put the book down. A good read, but my advice is that if you try it, commit yourself to read the entire novel. The only bad point is that Haruf, for some odd reason, chose not to use quotations for the dialogue. I think the idea was to create a monotonous, hazy read(in which he succeeds), but overall, it gets confusing. But overall, great book.
    ...more info
  • Plainsong (It's actually a novel, but whatever)
    Kent Haruf is yet another great writer that hails from the high plains of the Western United States. His books reflect the atmosphere that he grew up in and are amazingly lifelike in their portrayal of the culture of the Midwest. Plainsong is just such a book. It combines the relaxed and casual culture of a small Eastern Colorado town with the harshness of everyday life in a way that the verisimilitude is unmistakable.
    Refusing to fall prey to the traps that many modern novelists fall into, Haruf sidesteps the sentimental and the overly-harsh realism that many writers try to simulate and heads straight into an impactful and compelling story about the individual and collective struggles of a group of people.
    Moreover, Plainsong exudes compassion and goodness in a bunch of very bad situations. The genius of this book is not the roughness of the characters, though that is part of the beauty, but it is the heroism of everyday people. This book isn't about idyllic notions of what it means to be a hero, but rather the positive impact that everyday people can have on each other.
    As a warning to more sensitive readers (like myself), Plainsong is often graphic and harshly real. Several scenes contain sexual content that is bluntly real, but not pornographic. I would feel irresponsible if I didn't make note of this so that potential readers can decide for themselves if this is something that they want to subject themselves to. All that said, I realize that most modern novel fans have already confronted the fact that most modern novels contain some graphic sexual content.
    Overall, Plainsong is one of the most enjoyable books that I have read recently. Potential readers may be discouraged by the slow start of the novel, but let me assure you it picks up soon enough and you are left with a very compelling story that you won't want to put down.
    ...more info
  • Beautiful.
    This story, like life, is not necessarily full of well-defined motives and scenes; rather, it is a compilation of select, memorable moments--as if it were one person's life re-visited in detailed memory. In this case, the memories belong to the town of Holt, Colorado. Several reviews I have read (on the amazon site) claim that the book is excellent, but incomplete. I can only agree with the first half of the statement. I will spare any readers of this review my own "wisdom" or insight as to the value of this book; beauty, in the end, is truly in the mind and heart of the beholder. I will say only one thing more: if you are a reader who seeks simple refuge from the uncertainties of your own life in the clean lines of over-worked prose, then this is not the book for you....more info
  • Plainsong will touch your heart
    One of the lovliest books I have read in years. ...more info
  • Unforgetable Characters
    Several respected reader friends told me that this was one of their all time favorite books. Another respected reader friend warned that it was very slow going. My experience was closer to the warning friend. The characters are truly memorable, but I would have like those memorable characters to be a bit more active. You really had to love the batchelor brothers, but the other characters were sort of underdeveloped I thought. Also, I hate it when a book just ends without resolution. This one does that.

    But, the above said , I plan to read more of Haruf's work.

    ...more info
  • Gentle and Wonderful
    The lack of quotation marks rather threw me when I began reading this book, but since I have a tendency to read too fast, I slowed down and now feel I got more out of this book by concentrating. I too wish the author had delved a little more deeply into the characters' motivations, but nevertheless I loved this book and jumped right into "Eventide" which I had purchased at the same time. I now have Mr. Haruf's other two books and will quite now and start reading them....more info