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Plainsong by Kent Haruf

Plainsong (1999)

by Kent Haruf

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Plainsong (1)

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3,8401321,343 (3.98)420
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English (131)  Finnish (1)  Dutch (1)  All languages (133)
Showing 1-5 of 131 (next | show all)
Plainsong is a form of medieval church music that involves chanting; it emerged around 100 A.D. It does not use any instrumental accompaniment, instead, it uses words that are sung. It is this that suggests a structure that orders the story told by Kent Haruf in his beautiful novel. The narration inhabits short vignette-like chapters about a small group of people who inhabit a town set on the stark but beautiful High Plains of Colorado.

It is in the small town of Holt, Colorado, that Tom Guthrie, a high school teacher, struggles to keep his life together and to raise his two boys after their depressed mother first retreats into her bedroom, and then moves away to her sister's house. The boys, not yet adolescents, have a paper route while attempting a normal life of boyhood; yet they have difficulty making sense of adult behavior and their mother's apparent abandonment. In one touching scene the boys bond with an elderly customer and help her as she makes cookies. A pregnant teenage girl, kicked out by her mother and rejected by the father of her child, searches for a secure place in the world. And far out in the country, two elderly bachelor brothers work the family farm as they have their entire lives, all but isolated from life beyond their own community. While they are isolated, the brothers are not immune to the need to love and be loved. Their role in the story is central and demonstrates how they are able to grow and redeem lives. Each of the main characters demonstrate both the potential for human kindness and the consequences of difficulties, both due to their own flaws or those of others.

From these separate strands emerges a stoic vision of life--and of the community and landscape that bind them together. Through Haruf's spare prose these lies emerge with a beauty and endurance that is impressive. Plainsong is a story of the abandonment, grief, and that bind these people together. It is also a story of the kindness, hope, and dignity that redeem their lives. Utterly true to the rhythms and patterns of life, Plainsong is a tremendous novel that deserved its nomination for a National Book Award. ( )
  jwhenderson | May 8, 2016 |
A graceful, quiet yet powerful book. It is a study of small town life, told through several characters in alternating chapters. There is nothing new here -- just everyday lives with the usual problems. Some people have more good than bad in them, some have more bad than good, and a lot of people just don't know how to balance any of that. The crusty old bachelor brother farmers in particular were wonderful characters.
Haruf has an extraordinary ability to create characters that speak directly from the pages. Not schmaltzy. Just lovely. Pure storywriting. ( )
  TheBookJunky | Apr 22, 2016 |
A surprisingly heartwarming story. I was expecting a sad, depressing story based on the description on the back of this book, but I was happily surprising to find a much more complex tale. The character of the Victoria, a pregnant teenager, really resonated for me and I felt gripped by her story as it unfolded. Overall, this is a compelling portrait of a small town in Colorado and a solid piece of literature. ( )
  wagner.sarah35 | Mar 27, 2016 |
"Plainsong - the unisonous vocal music used in the Christian church from the earliest times; any simple and unadorned melody or air"

Haruf's beautifully understated prose corresponds perfectly with the title: simple, unadorned, melodic. The characters are presented perfectly, in all their imperfections. For some people life has many negatives, but in this mesmerizing novel Haruf shows that positives shine. ( )
1 vote VivienneR | Mar 25, 2016 |
A lovely story of family and community. We meet various residents of the town of Holt and see them through the personal crises of their lives. The dialog is written in a curious style which took a little getting used to, but I think it suits the story. It is in no way twee but will leave you with a warm fuzzy feeling nonetheless. Family is about more than just blood, family is community, and with it we can achieve anything. Religion isn't mentioned at all but it reminded me of my church family in the way we care for each other cross culturally and cross generationally. ( )
  eclecticdodo | Mar 22, 2016 |
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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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Plainsong - the unisonous vocal music used in the Christian church from the earliest times; any simple and unadorned melody or air
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.
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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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:15 -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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