Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Plainsong by Kent Haruf

Victoria Roubideaux finds herself young and pregnant and with nowhere to go.

Tom Guthrie is a teacher and trying hard to bring up his two sons on his own.

Two elderly brothers live together on their farm doing the only thing that they know how.

Set in the small town of Holt, Colorado these people form part of the same community but all tackle their lives in different ways.  However, living in a small town brings challenges of its own that interweaves the lives of its inhabitants.

I enjoyed reading this book for two main reasons. First, the characters are wonderful and secondly, the atmosphere that the author has created is almost tangible.

I also loved its simplicity. The prose flows very gracefully across the page and in itself demonstrates an innocence in the characters and the town in which they live.  
Mr Haruf has created a wonderful cast of characters and I found myself rooting for every one of them.  I was fully engaged with Victoria and the McPheron brothers, and empathised with Tom and his sons. I also loved the generational contrast between the elderly McPheron brothers and the young Guthrie boys. The comparison between the two sets of brothers who were separated by decades but not by place was insightful. Considering the entire narrative is written in the third person I think this engagement of characters is testament to the skill of the authors writing.

However, this book is as much about the town of Holt as it is about the people who populate it. It is very much a small town that does not change much from one generation to the next. People are born, live and die in this town and the cycle goes on.

This is a book about love. Not so much romantic love but the love between parents and children, between siblings and also, love of a town and its community.

My only slight criticism of this book is that it did not come together sufficiently at the end. I expected a more pronounced interweaving of the characters which did not occur. However, this is the first book in a trilogy and this ended with everything set for it to continue to the next book, Eventide, followed by Benediction.  I certainly liked it enough to want to read more and would encourage other readers to do so.

ISBN: 978 1447240440

Publisher: Picador

Price: £7.19 (at today)

About the author:

Kent Haruf was born in eastern Colorado. He received his Bachelors of Arts in literature from Nebraska Wesleyan University in 1965 and his Masters of Fine Arts from the Iowa Writers' Workshop at the University of Iowa in 1973. For two years, he taught English in Turkey with the Peace Corps and his other jobs have included working on a chicken farm, a construction site and a rehabilitation hospital in Colorado.

Plainsong, received the Mountains and Plains Booksellers Award, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, the Maria Thomas Award in Fiction, and The New Yorker Book Award. It was also a finalist for the 1999 National Book Award. 

Haruf lived with his wife, Cathy, in Salida, Colorado, with their three daughters. He died of cancer in 2014.

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