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Plainsong by Kent Haruf
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Plainsong (1999)

by Kent Haruf

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Plainsong (1)

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English (112)  Finnish (1)  Dutch (1)  All languages (114)
Showing 1-5 of 112 (next | show all)
This style of prose is often called spare, and compared to Hemingway. It's true you'll find no florid monologues, no frilly analogies, and little hemming and hawing in the thoughts and words of these plain, hard-working people. But I wouldn't call the prose spare and I wouldn't compare it to Hemingway.

While emotions run deep in Haruf's prose as in Hemingway's, Plainsong deals with recovery, redemption, and kindness rather than the themes of violence, loss, and human damage that underscore many of Hemingway's novels. There is plenty of cruelty and pain in Plainsong: a pregnant teenager is abandoned by her mother and her baby's father, a mother of two young boys is crippled by depression and incapable of mothering, a teacher is bullied and threatened for failing a slacker who deserves to fail. Yet each narrative of loss has an upward trajectory, wounds slowly healed rather than opened and re-opened. My only bone of contention with this beautiful, under-stated novel is that the characters weren't tested nearly enough. Their problems resolved too easily. They were strong enough to survive greater strife, with consequently greater triumph. Haruf could use a dash more Hemingway and still avoid "depressing" by a long shot.

Like the narrative, the prose is less spartan than it appears on the surface. It's precise. Each description, thought, and especially each dialogue sequence, is erected carefully without seeming careful, a bone fitted and flowing into the skeleton of an elegant house, inviting the reader to inhabit the vivid spaces between the bones, spaces in which Holt County lives and breathes. The hard glint to Haruf's words adds to a sense of bounty, not paucity.

"They were dumbfounded. They looked at her, regarding her as if she might be dangerous. Then they peered into the palms of their thick callused hands spread out before them on the kitchen table and lastly they looked out the window toward the leafless and stunted elm trees.

Oh, I know it sounds crazy, she said. I suppose it is crazy. I don't know. I don't even care. But that girl needs somebody and I'm ready to take desperate measures. She needs a home for these months. And you-she smiled at them-you old solitary bastards need somebody too. Somebody or something besides an old red cow to care about and worry over. It's too lonesome out here. Well, look at you. You're going to die some day without ever having had enough trouble in your life. Not the right kind anyway.

...So for a while they stood below the windmill in the failing light. The thirsty horses approached and sniffed at the water and began to drink, sucking up long draughts of it. Afterward they stood back watching the two brothers, their eyes as large and luminous as perfect round knobs of mahogany glass. It was almost dark now. Only a thin violet band of light showed in the west on the low horizon.

All right, Harold said. I know what I think. What do you think we do with her?

We take her in, Raymond said. He spoke without hesitation, as though he'd only been waiting for his brother to start so they could have this out and settle it." ( )
1 vote Sarah_Beaudette | Apr 13, 2015 |
This style of prose is often called spare, and compared to Hemingway. It's true you'll find no florid monologues, no frilly analogies, and little hemming and hawing in the thoughts and words of these plain, hard-working people. But I wouldn't call the prose spare and I wouldn't compare it to Hemingway.

While emotions run deep in Haruf's prose as in Hemingway's, Plainsong deals with recovery, redemption, and kindness rather than the themes of violence, loss, and human damage that underscore many of Hemingway's novels. There is plenty of cruelty and pain in Plainsong: a pregnant teenager is abandoned by her mother and her baby's father, a mother of two young boys is crippled by depression and incapable of mothering, a teacher is bullied and threatened for failing a slacker who deserves to fail. Yet each narrative of loss has an upward trajectory, wounds slowly healed rather than opened and re-opened. My only bone of contention with this beautiful, under-stated novel is that the characters weren't tested nearly enough. Their problems resolved too easily. They were strong enough to survive greater strife, with consequently greater triumph. Haruf could use a dash more Hemingway and still avoid "depressing" by a long shot.

Like the narrative, the prose is less spartan than it appears on the surface. It's precise. Each description, thought, and especially each dialogue sequence, is erected carefully without seeming careful, a bone fitted and flowing into the skeleton of an elegant house, inviting the reader to inhabit the vivid spaces between the bones, spaces in which Holt County lives and breathes. The hard glint to Haruf's words adds to a sense of bounty, not paucity.

"They were dumbfounded. They looked at her, regarding her as if she might be dangerous. Then they peered into the palms of their thick callused hands spread out before them on the kitchen table and lastly they looked out the window toward the leafless and stunted elm trees.

Oh, I know it sounds crazy, she said. I suppose it is crazy. I don't know. I don't even care. But that girl needs somebody and I'm ready to take desperate measures. She needs a home for these months. And you-she smiled at them-you old solitary bastards need somebody too. Somebody or something besides an old red cow to care about and worry over. It's too lonesome out here. Well, look at you. You're going to die some day without ever having had enough trouble in your life. Not the right kind anyway.

...So for a while they stood below the windmill in the failing light. The thirsty horses approached and sniffed at the water and began to drink, sucking up long draughts of it. Afterward they stood back watching the two brothers, their eyes as large and luminous as perfect round knobs of mahogany glass. It was almost dark now. Only a thin violet band of light showed in the west on the low horizon.

All right, Harold said. I know what I think. What do you think we do with her?

We take her in, Raymond said. He spoke without hesitation, as though he'd only been waiting for his brother to start so they could have this out and settle it." ( )
  Sarah_Beaudette | Apr 13, 2015 |
This style of prose is often called spare, and compared to Hemingway. It's true you'll find no florid monologues, no frilly analogies, and little hemming and hawing in the thoughts and words of these plain, hard-working people. But I wouldn't call the prose spare and I wouldn't compare it to Hemingway.

While emotions run deep in Haruf's prose as in Hemingway's, Plainsong deals with recovery, redemption, and kindness rather than the themes of violence, loss, and human damage that underscore many of Hemingway's novels. There is plenty of cruelty and pain in Plainsong: a pregnant teenager is abandoned by her mother and her baby's father, a mother of two young boys is crippled by depression and incapable of mothering, a teacher is bullied and threatened for failing a slacker who deserves to fail. Yet each narrative of loss has an upward trajectory, wounds slowly healed rather than opened and re-opened. My only bone of contention with this beautiful, under-stated novel is that the characters weren't tested nearly enough. Their problems resolved too easily. They were strong enough to survive greater strife, with consequently greater triumph. Haruf could use a dash more Hemingway and still avoid "depressing" by a long shot.

Like the narrative, the prose is less spartan than it appears on the surface. It's precise. Each description, thought, and especially each dialogue sequence, is erected carefully without seeming careful, a bone fitted and flowing into the skeleton of an elegant house, inviting the reader to inhabit the vivid spaces between the bones, spaces in which Holt County lives and breathes. The hard glint to Haruf's words adds to a sense of bounty, not paucity.

"They were dumbfounded. They looked at her, regarding her as if she might be dangerous. Then they peered into the palms of their thick callused hands spread out before them on the kitchen table and lastly they looked out the window toward the leafless and stunted elm trees.

Oh, I know it sounds crazy, she said. I suppose it is crazy. I don't know. I don't even care. But that girl needs somebody and I'm ready to take desperate measures. She needs a home for these months. And you-she smiled at them-you old solitary bastards need somebody too. Somebody or something besides an old red cow to care about and worry over. It's too lonesome out here. Well, look at you. You're going to die some day without ever having had enough trouble in your life. Not the right kind anyway.

...So for a while they stood below the windmill in the failing light. The thirsty horses approached and sniffed at the water and began to drink, sucking up long draughts of it. Afterward they stood back watching the two brothers, their eyes as large and luminous as perfect round knobs of mahogany glass. It was almost dark now. Only a thin violet band of light showed in the west on the low horizon.

All right, Harold said. I know what I think. What do you think we do with her?

We take her in, Raymond said. He spoke without hesitation, as though he'd only been waiting for his brother to start so they could have this out and settle it." ( )
  Sarah_Beaudette | Apr 13, 2015 |
Lives intertwine subtley and yet beautifully in intricate ways. A pregnant teenager, two churlish bachlor brothers, a teacher, and a couple of little boys left behind when their mother leaves their father. Full of extraordinary writing and wonderful storytelling. A book of redemption and forgiveness.

My favorite characters were the brothers, Harold and Raymond. I loved their relationship with one another, their awkwardness, their generosity, and their timid goodness. ( )
  tnociti | Mar 7, 2015 |
"Plainsong" is the first in a trilogy all set in the fictionalized town of Holt, Colorado. I’ve already read the third "Benediction".

We follow several stories that are vaguely connected. A schoolteacher having trouble with a bad boy in school. The teacher’s two young sons who experience the loss of their mother who have moved away because of a depression. A teenager who becomes pregnant - and find new hope staying with two elderly bachelor farmers.

That doesn’t sound very exciting or special - I know. But it’s the way Haruf “magically” with his sparse prose creates a very realistic tone - sometimes suspenseful and tragic, other times hopeful and funny. Not a sentence in this novel seems superfluous or out of place.

Tom Stechschulte narration in deep bass does a good job creating this special atmosphere. Specially his voice for the lovely grounded McPheron-brothers - providing us with most of the uplifting scenes in the book. ( )
3 vote ctpress | Jan 24, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 112 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (11 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Kent Harufprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Vosmaer, MartineTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Plainsong - the unisonous vocal music used in the Christian church from the earliest times; any simple and unadorned melody or air
Dedication
For Cathy And in memory of Louis and Eleanor Haruf
First words
Here was this man Tom Guthrie in Holt standing at the back window in the kitchen of his house smoking cigarettes and looking out over the back lot where the sun was just coming up.
Quotations
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0375705856, Paperback)

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

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:47:39 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

The interwoven lives of a community in Colorado. The characters include two cattle farmers who take in a girl, thrown out of her house for becoming pregnant. The novel describes the girl's impact on their lives, both men being bachelors.

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