Plainsong (2000)

by Kent Haruf

Plainsong is an understated story about the difficulties of everyday life — and about how human concern and kindness ameliorate them. Alternate chapters feature residents of tiny Holt, Colorado, whose lives intertwine: Tom Guthrie, a high school teacher dealing with a depressed estranged wife and a student bully. His sons, Ike, 10, and Bobby, 9, who suffer from their parents' breakup and at the hands of the bully. Victoria Roubideaux, a pregnant teenager whose mother throws her out, and Harold and Raymond McPheron, the elderly bachelor farmers who take her in. Maggie Jones, who connects Victoria with the McPherons and who pines for her school colleague Tom. 

These characters are all decent people to whom readers will regret saying goodbye. The unlikely bond between the McPherons and Victoria is particularly moving as the socially awkward brothers, more accustomed to caring for cows than people, open their home and hearts.

Haruf's quiet eloquence is evidence that the best writing doesn't call attention to itself. There are no gimmicks or clever techniques in Plainsong, just vivid prose that renders character, dialogue, landscape, and even descriptions of animal husbandry real. This third novel from Haruf, who teaches at Southern Illinois University, was a finalist for the National Book Award.


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