Thursday, April 1, 2010

Review: Plainsong

Author: Kent Haruf
Format: Trade paperback 301 pgs
Characters: Tom Guthrie, Ike and Billy, Victoria Roubideaux, the McPherons
Subject: life in small town America  
Setting: Colorado, sometime in late 20th century
Genre: fiction
Source: public library
Challenge: Support your local library

This one was not on my original radar screen at all.  Our local senior center has a monthly book discussion group I decided to join.  They chose this for next week's discussion and since we had a copy on the shelf at out local library where I work, I grabbed it, and said "ok, I think I can read this by next Monday" don't forget I also have to finish Cutting for Stone by next wednesday for another book group!!  I opened the book, read the first chapter, and could not put it down.  I took it to the dentist, I took it to the Annual Town Meeting (and those of you who live in New England KNOW how hard it is to read there), I took it to bed and read into the is absolutely gorgeous, luscious, and at the same time just plain simple. Like a quilt with a seemingly easy pattern and only a few colors, but whose design is so intricate you almost can't piece it.

Haruf presents a picture of small town America...a prairie farm town outside of Denver in Colorado.  He takes a few people and shows us how those lives intertwine through ordinary everyday happenings:

  • There is Tom Guthrie, a high school teacher who is dealing with a recalcitrant bully in one of his classes, whose wife is so mentally ill she won't come out of her room and who eventually leaves him, and his two sons Ike and Billy 9 and 10 whose small town paper route requires that they get up at daybreak every morning to go down to the train depot, roll the newspapers and then deliver them via their bikes before coming home to eat breakfast and get ready for school.
  • There's Victoria Roubideaux, a beautiful, shy, high school student whose mother locks her out of the house and will have nothing to do with her when she discovers her daughter's pregnancy. 
  • There's Maggie Jones, another high school teacher, who befriends Victoria and others in town, and who has been pining for Tom Guthrie for a long time, all the while caring for her very old mentally addled father.
  • And there are the McPheron brothers, as American Gothic a pair as you can imagine.  These two are just absolutely worth the entire book.  Bachelor farmers who were orphaned before their teens, they live alone 17 miles outside the town, go to bed by 9 at night, get up with the chickens, and rarely speak since there doesn't seem to anything but hog belly futures to worry about. At the urging of Maggie, they take in the homeless Victoria, and the rest as they say is history...
This is an exquisite book, written in superbly simple descriptive prose that leaves you breathless, both with the characters, the settings, the various episodes of living and the warm loving portrayal of small town life.  I borrowed this from the library, but you can be sure this one is going on the wishlist to buy so I can read it again and again.  It is easy to see how it was a National Book Award finalist.


  1. Gee, this sounds like a winner. you have convinced me that this is one I have to get.
    darn you! how will I ever decrease my TBR pile at this rate? ;-)

  2. If this book had such an effect on you, I'm definitely going to look for it.

    How could you read at the town meeting? There's always one person who talks louder than anyone else and dominates the meeting with questions and complaints. I remember writing a piece about one I went to for a college course - got an A for my quirky characters.

  3. I'm laughing...yes it was the one person at the town meeting who was going on and on and very loudly (I think his hearing aid was OFF), but since his ramblings weren't going to change how I (or anyone else) was going to vote, we all knew just to let him have his annual say, and then storm out when the vote didn't go his way. I got about 1/2 a chapter read during the diatribe.


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