Plainsong is a hymn of praise—a paean to the power of place and to the capacity of individuals to transcend loneliness and despair, coming together in community. Haruf's writing has a graininess that lingers on tiny details as characters move from place to place.
A LitLovers LitPick (Dec. 07)
Haruf has made a novel so foursquare, so delicate and lovely, that it has the power to exalt the reader.... At times, a sentence almost suggests Flannery O'Connor.... But the prose and the outlook are always Haruf's own.
Verlyn Klinkenborg - New York Times Book Review
Although the intersection of these three sets of lonely lives might normally have all the melodramatic makings of a provincial soap opera, Mr. Haruf orchestrates their convergence with such authority and grace that their stories materialize before the reader's eyes without a shred of contrivance. As his critically acclaimed first novel, The Tie That Binds (1985), demonstrated, he possesses an intimate knowledge of farm and small town life, and in this novel, he uses that knowledge to immerse the reader in the daily rhythms of life in Holt, Colo. His language borrows the spareness and measured cadences of Hemingway, but it has a folksy, down-home inflection, the sound of the prairies and great plains.
Michiko Kakutani - New York Times
Handled by a lesser writer, some of these plots would be predictable, but Haruf's prose transcends any formula. The writing is simple and understated, with no quotation marks around the dialogue. The novel has a timeless quality to it. This gentle book is a beautiful read, appropriate for high school collections and public library young adult collections. Hard to imagine it being any better written; Broad general YA appeal.
In the same way that the plains define the American landscape, small-town life in the heartlands is a quintessentially American experience. Holt, Colo., a tiny prairie community near Denver, is both the setting for and the psychological matrix of Haruf's beautifully executed new novel. Alternating chapters focus on eight compassionately imagined characters whose lives undergo radical change during the course of one year. High school teacher Tom Guthrie's depressed wife moves out of their house, leaving him to care for their young sons. Ike, 10, and Bobby, nine, are polite, sensitive boys who mature as they observe the puzzling behavior of adults they love. At school, Guthrie must deal with a vicious student bully whose violent behavior eventually menaces Ike and Bobby, in a scene that will leave readers with palpitating hearts. Meanwhile, pregnant teenager Victoria Roubideaux, evicted by her mother, seeks help from kindhearted, pragmatic teacher Maggie Jones, who convinces the elderly McPheron brothers, Raymond and Harold, to let Victoria live with them in their old farmhouse. After many decades of bachelor existence, these gruff, unpolished cattle farmers must relearn the art of conversation when Victoria enters their lives. The touching humor of their awkward interaction endows the story with a heartwarming dimensionality. Haruf's (The Tie That Binds) descriptions of rural existence are a richly nuanced mixture of stark details and poetic evocations of the natural world. Weather and landscape are integral to tone and mood, serving as backdrop to every scene. His plain, Hemingwayesque prose takes flight in lyrical descriptions of sunsets and birdsong, and condenses to the matter-of-fact in describing the routines of animal husbandry. In one scene, a rancher's ungloved hand repeatedly reaches though fecal matter to check cows for pregnancy; in another, readers follow the step-by-step procedure of an autopsy on a horse. 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. In depicting the stalwart courage of decent, troubled people going on with their lives, Haruf's quietly eloquent account illumines the possibilities of grace.
Two bachelor farmer brothers, a pregnant high school girl, two young brothers, and two devoted high school teachers—this is the interesting group of people, some related by blood but most not, featured in the award-winning Haruf's touching new novel. Set in the plains of Colorado, east of Denver, the novel comprises several story lines that flow into one. Tom Guthrie, a high school history teacher, is having problems with his wife and with an unruly student at school—problems that affect his young sons, Ike and Bob, as well. Meanwhile, the pregnant Victoria Roubideaux has been abandoned by her family. With the assistance of another teacher, Maggie Jones, she finds refuge with the McPheron brothers—who seem to know more about cows than people. Lyrical and well crafted, the tight narrative about how families can be made between folks who are not necessarily blood relatives makes for enjoyable reading. Highly recommended for public libraries.
A stirring meditation on the true nature and necessity of the family. Among the several damaged families in this beautifully cadenced and understated tale is that of Tom Guthrie, a high-school history teacher in small Holt, Colorado, who's left to raise his two young sons, Ike and Bobby, alone when his troubled wife first withdraws from them and then, without explanation, abandons them altogether. Victoria Roubideaux, a high-school senior, is thrown out of her house when her mother discovers she's pregnant. Harold and Raymond McPheron, two aging but self-reliant cattle ranchers, are haunted by their imaginings of what they may have missed in life by electing never to get married, never to strike out on their own. Haruf (Where You Once Belonged, 1989, etc.) believably draws these various incomplete or troubled figures together. Victoria, pretty, insecure, uncertain of her own worth, has allowed herself to be seduced by a weak, spoiled lout who quickly disappears. When her bitter mother locks her out, she turns to Maggie Jones, a compassionate teacher and a neighbor, for help. Maggie places Victoria with the McPheron brothers, an arrangement that Guthrie, a friend of both Maggie and the McPherons, supports. Some of Haruf's best passages trace with precision and delicacy the ways in which, gradually, the gentle, the lonely brothers and Victoria begin to adapt to each other and then, over the course of Victoria's pregnancy, to form a resilient family unit. Harold and Raymond's growing affection for Victoria gives her a sense of self-worth, which proves crucial when her vanished (and abusive) boyfriend, comes briefly back into her life. Haruf is equally good at catching the ways inwhich Tom and his sons must quietly struggle to deal with their differing feelings of loss, guilt, and abandonment. Everyone is struggling here, and it's their decency, and their determination to care for one another, Haruf suggests, that gets them through. A touching work, as honest and precise as the McPheron brothers themselves.
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