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A heartstrong story of family and romance, tribulation and tenacity, set on the High Plains east of Denver. In the small town of Holt, Colorado, a high school teacher is confronted with raising his two boys alone after their mother retreats first to the bedroom, then altogether. A teenage girl—her father long since disappeared, her mother unwilling to have her in the house— A heartstrong story of family and romance, tribulation and tenacity, set on the High Plains east of Denver. In the small town of Holt, Colorado, a high school teacher is confronted with raising his two boys alone after their mother retreats first to the bedroom, then altogether. A teenage girl—her father long since disappeared, her mother unwilling to have her in the house—is pregnant, alone herself, with nowhere to go. And out in the country, two brothers, elderly bachelors, work the family homestead, the only world they've ever known. From these unsettled lives emerges a vision of life, and of the town and landscape that bind them together—their fates somehow overcoming the powerful circumstances of place and station, their confusion, curiosity, dignity and humor intact and resonant. As the milieu widens to embrace fully four generations, Kent Haruf displays an emotional and aesthetic authority to rival the past masters of a classic American tradition. Utterly true to the rhythms and patterns of life, Plainsong is a novel to care about, believe in, and learn from.


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A heartstrong story of family and romance, tribulation and tenacity, set on the High Plains east of Denver. In the small town of Holt, Colorado, a high school teacher is confronted with raising his two boys alone after their mother retreats first to the bedroom, then altogether. A teenage girl—her father long since disappeared, her mother unwilling to have her in the house— A heartstrong story of family and romance, tribulation and tenacity, set on the High Plains east of Denver. In the small town of Holt, Colorado, a high school teacher is confronted with raising his two boys alone after their mother retreats first to the bedroom, then altogether. A teenage girl—her father long since disappeared, her mother unwilling to have her in the house—is pregnant, alone herself, with nowhere to go. And out in the country, two brothers, elderly bachelors, work the family homestead, the only world they've ever known. From these unsettled lives emerges a vision of life, and of the town and landscape that bind them together—their fates somehow overcoming the powerful circumstances of place and station, their confusion, curiosity, dignity and humor intact and resonant. As the milieu widens to embrace fully four generations, Kent Haruf displays an emotional and aesthetic authority to rival the past masters of a classic American tradition. Utterly true to the rhythms and patterns of life, Plainsong is a novel to care about, believe in, and learn from.

30 review for Plainsong

  1. 4 out of 5

    Will Byrnes

    Kent Haruf - 1943 - 2014 - image from the New York Times - photo credit - Michael Lionstar Victoria Robideaux is 17 and pregnant. Her mother throws her out and she is taken in, for a time, by the kindly Maggie Jones. But Maggie’s old father is off his rocker and this makes for a dangerous household for Vicky. She winds up with two brothers, Raymond and Harold McPheron, sheltered gentlemen who have spent their entire lives working the same ranch in the home in which they grew up. The love that spr Kent Haruf - 1943 - 2014 - image from the New York Times - photo credit - Michael Lionstar Victoria Robideaux is 17 and pregnant. Her mother throws her out and she is taken in, for a time, by the kindly Maggie Jones. But Maggie’s old father is off his rocker and this makes for a dangerous household for Vicky. She winds up with two brothers, Raymond and Harold McPheron, sheltered gentlemen who have spent their entire lives working the same ranch in the home in which they grew up. The love that springs up in this makeshift family is a glory to behold. Dark forces abide in the town as well, and are given their due attention, as well. But it is a very human town that Haruf portrays. The writing is beautiful and spare. This is a work of art. Other Kent Haruf books we have enjoyed -----Our Souls at Night -----Benediction -----Eventide

  2. 4 out of 5

    Cecily

    Colorado High Plains, image source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedi... Absence Peek between the gaps to appreciate the pared-down beauty of this book. At its heart, is absence: the words not used, the thoughts not made explicit, the loved-ones left or lost, the open space in which it is set. The language is plain, utilitarian, and unsentimental, as are the situations described in the short chapters. There is no backstory, there are no inner monologues - indeed, most of the characters say lit Colorado High Plains, image source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedi... Absence Peek between the gaps to appreciate the pared-down beauty of this book. At its heart, is absence: the words not used, the thoughts not made explicit, the loved-ones left or lost, the open space in which it is set. The language is plain, utilitarian, and unsentimental, as are the situations described in the short chapters. There is no backstory, there are no inner monologues - indeed, most of the characters say little enough out loud (and when they do, there are no quotation marks) – and there are few suggestions as to what the future might hold. It is all rooted in the fickle but ubiquitous Colorado dust of the here and now (published in 1999, and maybe set a few years earlier). Simplicity lends clarity and focus, but what lies beneath is more complex. The story juxtaposes intolerable loss and cruelty with the amazing, unconditional generosity and love of virtual strangers. Despite the pain, there is always tender, tentative hope: "They knew they were not out of the woods yet, but they allowed themselves to believe that what they saw ahead was at least a faint track leading to a kind of promising clearing." So many caveats in a single sentence. Pairs There is an unsettling sense of oscillation, uncertainty, precarious balance, because this is a book of pairs: twins and opposites, of people and situations – even pairs of pairs (Ike and Bobby Guthrie, the young brothers; Raymond and Harold McPheron, the old ones). One pair are bemused by the many varieties of sugar, eggs, and oats in a shop, then in the next chapter, another pair are bemused by the permutations of cribs, mattresses, and bedding. Windows are open and shaded. Two women withdraw from motherhood as another embarks on it, and childless people parent a mother. The pregnancy of cows is balanced with that of a young woman. Cruelty is counteracted with kindness. There is sleep and wakefulness, death and birth, light and dark, blood and beauty, and walking/pushing away versus being welcomed unconditionally. Perhaps the ultimate pair is that of this book with its sequel, Eventide. They are two halves of the same story, set a couple of years apart, both woven around the delicate combination of pairs of similarity and difference. If you read Plainsong and enjoy it, I urge to read Eventide soon after, as I did. Benediction is separate, despite GR labelling it as #3. See my reviews: • Eventide (follows on from this) 5* • Benediction (a separate story) 5* Sleep The hypnotic beauty of the plain song is almost soporific. Almost. Sleep is mentioned on the very first page, and is significant in almost every chapter for at least the first third of the book, and occasionally, but importantly, in the remainder. A crucial turning point – more than would ordinarily be the case – concerns the decision to buy a crib. There are so many dilemmas and issues: where characters sleep; how they sleep; whether to wake someone; whether someone is really asleep or not; the dishevelled look on waking; using sleep as an excuse; using lack of sleep as an excuse; watching someone sleep. However, who people sleep with (and don’t) is much less important. A tired character looked “like some survivor of a train wreck or flood, the sad remnant from some disaster that had passed through and done its damage and gone on”. It’s not just people: even the battered windows and screens of an abandoned house make it look “sleepy-eyed”. Individually these incidents are dismissible as quotidian, but taken together, they hint at something deeper: Holt is not a sleepy small town in the usual sense. There are life-changing events for all the main characters, but they are never treated as big emotional dramas. Holt's citizens are troubled in many ways, and that is reflected in their night-time hours. When they’re awake, they get on with life as best they can. Maggie Jones Her name may head only one chapter, but she’s the benevolent puppeteer of most of the key characters. (The chapters each bear the title of the main character(s) concerned. All but two are: (Tom) Guthrie, Ike and Bobby (his sons), Victoria Roubideaux, and McPherons (elderly brothers). There is one each for Ella (Guthrie’s wife) and Maggie Jones.) She is the one who suggests the McPherons take in the pregnant teen, Victoria: “You solitary old bastards need somebody too… You’re going to die someday without ever having had enough trouble in your life. Not of the right kind anyway.” Then she steps back and leaves them to sort things out, not because she can’t be bothered or doesn’t care, but because she understands that’s the most effective way. Her involvement with Tom Guthrie is a similar combination of the forthright and passive. Stoner The McPheron brothers reminded me strongly of the eponymous character of my (joint) favourite novel, Stoner. If Stoner had followed his more likely destiny as a son of the soil, he would have been barely distinguishable from Harold and Raymond. Quotes Important things happen to the characters in Plainsong, but it's really about the atmosphere conjured by the landscape and language, rather than plot. Haruf’s style is perfect for dirt and dust, slanted light and shadow. • “The sun was higher, the light beginning to slide down the ladder of the windmill brightening it, making rings of rose-gold.” • “The pickup lifted a powdery plume from the road and the suspended dust shone like bright flecks of gold in the sun.” • “Her hair had been dyed, built not recently: her hair was maroon, like no human natural colour anywhere.” • “The air was turning sharp, with a fall feeling of loneliness coming. Something unaccountable pending in the air.” • “You must be lonely.”…… “They didn’t know how to say anything about that.” • A pregnancy test packet with a picture of a “young honey-haired woman with the look of religious exaltation on her face and the sunshiny garden stretching out behind”. • “The flicker of light spilled out into the side yard, where it flickered ever more faintly in a kind of illuminated echo on the dirt and dry weeds.” • “Glancing out of the window toward the place where the sun shone aslant on a few bare trees risen up along the street. It looked cold and bleak outside.” • “The trees along the curb… still showed sunlight at the tops; in the slanting afternoon sun the trees cast the thinnest of shadows as though they had been sprayed onto the street and brown grass.” • “The empty house… The broken –down neglected locust trees, shaggy barked, the overgrown yard, the dead sunflowers grown up everywhere with their heads loaded and drooping, everything dry and brown now in the late fall, dust-coated, and the sunken house itself diminished and weathered.” • “The little front room where at any time day or night, her clothes had been discarded and draped over the anonymous furniture and where… bowels of shrinking drying food had been put down at random on the bare rug.” • “The sky had turned faint and wispy and the thin blue shadow had reached across the snow.” • “Her eyes still bore a kind of wounded fierceness, as though the sadness and anger were both just below the surface.” • “Only a thin violet band of light showed in the west on the low horizon.'' • “She acted as though she were happy… They watched her with their heads down and smiled when she said things.” • “They looked as stiff and motionless as… two lifelike statues of minor saints.” (Note “minor”.) • Wind “crying around the house corners, heaving and whinging in the bare trees.” • “Too humbled and embarrassed to say what it was they wanted even if they could have said exactly what it was.” • “If you can read you can cook. You can always feed yourselves. You remember that. I’m not just talking about here. When you go home too.” • “The early dark of late December. The low sky closing down.” • “All flat and sandy, the stunted stands of trees at the isolated farmhouses… The winter wheat was the only real green.” • “The freckled shade of the trees… with the sun sliding down behind them.” (It’s possible I’ve instinctively added some of the commas Haruf deliberately omitted.) This is another book I loved, that I only knew about thanks to the review of a GR friend. Thank you, Steve.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Candi

    A beautifully written novel set in the rural town of Holt, Colorado, Plainsong is a book I will not soon forget. The prose is modest yet so elegant in its simplicity. Nothing is overdone and yet what happens to the characters in this book is far from uneventful. A pair of young brothers that have to learn to adjust without a mother in the home, a teenage girl pregnant and without a home, a father trying to raise his boys on his own, and a pair of staunch old bachelors who are presented with a so A beautifully written novel set in the rural town of Holt, Colorado, Plainsong is a book I will not soon forget. The prose is modest yet so elegant in its simplicity. Nothing is overdone and yet what happens to the characters in this book is far from uneventful. A pair of young brothers that have to learn to adjust without a mother in the home, a teenage girl pregnant and without a home, a father trying to raise his boys on his own, and a pair of staunch old bachelors who are presented with a somewhat extraordinary proposal - these all warmed my heart and I had a hard time detaching myself from their lives at story's end. I don't want to say any more than this about the plot; you will have to read this yourself to appreciate all the connections and how their lives intersect with one another in a most meaningful way. My heart ached at times for the young brothers, Bobby and Ike, as well as for the quietly dignified mother-to-be, Victoria. The McPheron brothers and an infirm elderly lady named Mrs. Stearns put a smile on my face and offered me a newfound faith in humanity. This is a story that resonates with hope and beauty and has earned nothing short of 5 stars from me.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Robin

    I'm a private, introverted person. I don't enjoy debates or big flare-up arguments, with loud splotches of emotion. Whack! There's some emphatic feeling right there, all messy on the floor. Maybe it's my Canadian-ness, or a result of my upbringing in a house where my parents always kept their troubles quietly to themselves. As a result of this personality trait, it follows that I don't like BIG CAPITAL LETTERS, loads!!!!!!!! of exclamation marks, or all kinds of emphasis, bejewelling and explana I'm a private, introverted person. I don't enjoy debates or big flare-up arguments, with loud splotches of emotion. Whack! There's some emphatic feeling right there, all messy on the floor. Maybe it's my Canadian-ness, or a result of my upbringing in a house where my parents always kept their troubles quietly to themselves. As a result of this personality trait, it follows that I don't like BIG CAPITAL LETTERS, loads!!!!!!!! of exclamation marks, or all kinds of emphasis, bejewelling and explanations. Subtlety, it's a beautiful thing. I aspire to it. In life and in books. Thus, I have a great deal of admiration for Kent Haruf's novel, which is 'plain' in title and execution. The words are serviceable and unadorned, much like the farm people who populate his story. Melodrama does not live here. Hysteria is not welcome. Words lie on the page as they are, simple yet elegant. These simple words then reach into your heart, and march according to its beat. I found that all on my own, without coercion or even the slightest push from the author, I was connected with the people of Holt. Young boys who have to deal with their mother moving away, a pregnant teenager kicked out of her home, a newly single father, an elderly lady who makes cookies for boys who deliver her newspaper. They're all three dimensional people now, thanks to Haruf's subtle words. Especially the McPheron brothers, two older men whose stoic, decent hearts are cracked open later in life, and who shine a warm light on every page they inhabit. The words, simple as they are, have power. So while I often don't reach it - subtlety, that is - Haruf's writing is a lovely reminder to keep trying.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jaline

    Welcome to the small town of Holt, Colorado and its surround countryside. I am not sure how it happened that I read this trilogy completely backwards, but now that I have read the last one (the first one last as any good backwards reader will tell you), I can now see where the feuds started, where the marriages broke down, where new relationships were formed, where people lived – together and apart – and how their individual stories began to intertwine with those of their neighbours, their frien Welcome to the small town of Holt, Colorado and its surround countryside. I am not sure how it happened that I read this trilogy completely backwards, but now that I have read the last one (the first one last as any good backwards reader will tell you), I can now see where the feuds started, where the marriages broke down, where new relationships were formed, where people lived – together and apart – and how their individual stories began to intertwine with those of their neighbours, their friends, their enemies, and the strangers who just wandered into their lives. As always, Kent Haruf’s writing soothed me while keeping my interest in the story he is telling and allowing me room for my thoughts to free-fall from the heights and ascend yet again. There is one instance where one simple sentence (of probably no more than a dozen words) had me thinking, picturing exactly what he described. There is another wee paragraph that describes two people dancing, and at the end of it I was breathless – I had been in that dance – part of the whirling, twirling bodies at one with the music. And the vividness does not stop there. I could feel the anguished helplessness of two little boys who were being terrorized by a high school bully. I admired the many times that Maggie Jones’ wisdom came through in her interactions with others – Veronica, the older McPheron bachelors, Tom Guthrie. All of them benefit in expansive ways because she knows when to put her thoughts forward and when to back away. Kent Haruf’s writing in this first of the Plainsong Trilogy is as soothing as a cup of warm tea, and yet he does not back away from life’s harsh realities. In his hands, the darker incidents, told plainly and simply, become strong messages about who we are at our worst, yet he always leaves the door open for possible redemption. One day I hope to read this Trilogy again, only this time I plan to do so by proceeding in chronological order. I have a feeling that it will be like reading them with fresh, new eyes, and that my reading experience will be all the richer for it.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Richard (on hiatus)

    Plainsong is my second Kent Haruf novel and an easy 5 stars! This powerful tale of small town life is set in Holt, a rural community near Denver in Colorado. The small cast of carefully drawn characters struggle with the challenges and quiet disasters of life. A young girl copes with an unplanned pregnancy, a school teacher lives through a marriage break up, his young sons try to make sense of the troubled world they find themselves in and two elderly brothers live in frigid isolation on their cat Plainsong is my second Kent Haruf novel and an easy 5 stars! This powerful tale of small town life is set in Holt, a rural community near Denver in Colorado. The small cast of carefully drawn characters struggle with the challenges and quiet disasters of life. A young girl copes with an unplanned pregnancy, a school teacher lives through a marriage break up, his young sons try to make sense of the troubled world they find themselves in and two elderly brothers live in frigid isolation on their cattle farm, coping with everyday hardships, a biting winter and loneliness. Their lives touch in a way that is both moving and surprisingly gripping. There’s a clarity of vision and quiet wisdom in Haruf’s writing that makes you savour every word and live every moment with the characters. There’s humour too but it’s quiet and understated ...... an occasional smile in the haunting melancholy. The people involved don’t say much but their down to earth nature and un-showy humanity makes them (or most of them) instantly likeable. There are three books in the Plainsong series and I’m really looking forward to the next one.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Annet

    Beautiful, a beautiful book. Thanks to all the good Goodreads friends who kept recommending this book to me. Especially the relationship and love between the gentle old farmer brothers Harold and Raymond McPheron and the young and pregnant Victoria, who they take into their home after her mother cast her out, is heartfelt. Wonderful writing, beautiful scenery... Great story. I like the description on the back cover: A novel of haunting beauty, Plainsong explores the grace and hope of every human Beautiful, a beautiful book. Thanks to all the good Goodreads friends who kept recommending this book to me. Especially the relationship and love between the gentle old farmer brothers Harold and Raymond McPheron and the young and pregnant Victoria, who they take into their home after her mother cast her out, is heartfelt. Wonderful writing, beautiful scenery... Great story. I like the description on the back cover: A novel of haunting beauty, Plainsong explores the grace and hope of every human life and mankind's infinite capacity for love. Like many before me, I say, Highly Recommended!

  8. 4 out of 5

    Lyn

    A beautiful, heartbreaking and ultimately redemptive novel. Set in the fictional town of Holt, Colorado in the real life eastern plains of that Rocky mountain state, and adjacent to the great elevations, author Kent Haruf’s somber 1999 novel Plainsong explores the interconnected lives of a group of people living and dying in this western plains town. Guthrie is a high school teacher raising two young boys and whose marriage is coming to a strange and murky end. Tom Guthrie is a simple western man, A beautiful, heartbreaking and ultimately redemptive novel. Set in the fictional town of Holt, Colorado in the real life eastern plains of that Rocky mountain state, and adjacent to the great elevations, author Kent Haruf’s somber 1999 novel Plainsong explores the interconnected lives of a group of people living and dying in this western plains town. Guthrie is a high school teacher raising two young boys and whose marriage is coming to a strange and murky end. Tom Guthrie is a simple western man, trying to maintain a sense of himself and his standards in the face of many and sundry complications. Not a perfect hero, Haruf casts Tom in a realistic light, but one from which heroism is seen plainly. Tom’s sons Ike and Bobby, ten and nine years old, feel the loss of their mother in the not-understanding way that children struggle with in a separation. Haruf tells of the separation obliquely and lets the reader try to understand no doubt as real life participants also strive to make sense of relationships gone awry. Victoria Roubideaux, one of Tom’s students, is a seventeen year old who is pregnant and faces the difficulties of family and relationships with a quiet dignity of young mothers throughout history. Like Guthrie, Haruf has created in Victoria not a one dimensional, flawless heroine, but rather painted with the brush of harsh realism; but Victoria and her sweet nature is one of the most charming aspects of this book. The McPheron’s, Raymond and Harold, are two elderly bachelor brothers who operate a ranch at the edge of town. They are persuaded to take in Victoria and the relationship that forms between the three is the hard nucleus around which the novel grows. Maggie Jones is a colleague of Tom’s who provides the connection between all of the other characters. A strong and wise woman who is also described as earthy and sensuous. Haruf has created a stark landscape, and peopled that harsh world with players as tough and resilient as the first people of the plains.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Dolors

    The stories displayed in this novel are simple and unadorned, both by the mundane events going on in the lives of these ordinary characters, and by the sober style of Haruf’s prose, which brings them to life. But when you sing these plain tunes together, a canon of imitations of melody, recurrent patterns and apparently disparate circumstances, compose a more colorful, richer symphony that is anything but simple. In the small community of Holt, Colorado, Tom Gurthie, a high school history teacher The stories displayed in this novel are simple and unadorned, both by the mundane events going on in the lives of these ordinary characters, and by the sober style of Haruf’s prose, which brings them to life. But when you sing these plain tunes together, a canon of imitations of melody, recurrent patterns and apparently disparate circumstances, compose a more colorful, richer symphony that is anything but simple. In the small community of Holt, Colorado, Tom Gurthie, a high school history teacher, is trying to endure his wife’s long-term depression while dealing with concerning issues in the classroom that might bring an untimely end to his career. His two young boys Ike and Bobby face a motherless future that forces them to enter the world of adulthood prematurely. Victoria is a teenager who is thrown out when her mother finds out that she is pregnant. The McPheron brothers, two elderly and lonely farmers, will offer her shelter and, quite unexpectedly, a solitary farmstead might become a warm, sweet home. The pace of the storyline moves forward without giving way into easy dramatizing, alternating realistic situations that invite the reader to pause and reflect on the plausible obstacles the characters confront on a daily basis and a vital cadence that pulsates underneath the toned-down narration. The scenarios the novel features might seem unrelated on the surface, but they are essentially the same when one takes a closer look, as there is nothing trivial in the tragedy that the complex business of living entails. Sorrow has a counterpart, the other side of the coin, like everything else, and even if it is not visible to the eyes; like the sun, the stars or the motes of dust that are suspended in the air, it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. Contentment is within our hands’ reach, if only we make an effort to feel it. This is the beauty of Haruf’s novels; this is the genius of his art, of his vision of the world. He gives enough perspective and soul to his characters to find beauty in the bigger picture, even if there are some raw, dark, cruel dots that disturb the harmony of the physical and psychological landscape that they inhabit. Generosity, delicate and charming, abounds in parenthesis amidst the commonplace suffering described in the pages of this novel; an unorthodox family might be possible in the imaginary plains of Holt that might reach mythical grandeur and will preserve the essential values of life. Well-rounded happiness is possible because there is a matching piece somewhere for every lost soul. Just keep your eyes open.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Karen

    Simply, a beautiful book! Holt, Colorado in the 1980’s Great characters, many with personal problems to work through. Tom Guthrie..a schoolteacher with two young boys to bring up who has a wife incapacitated by depression. Victoria...a 17 yr old schoolgirl who gets kicked out of her home by her mother when she becomes pregnant. The McPheron brothers (my favorite) two elderly men who’ve never been married and live together on their farm and agree to take in the pregnant Victoria to live with them. The Simply, a beautiful book! Holt, Colorado in the 1980’s Great characters, many with personal problems to work through. Tom Guthrie..a schoolteacher with two young boys to bring up who has a wife incapacitated by depression. Victoria...a 17 yr old schoolgirl who gets kicked out of her home by her mother when she becomes pregnant. The McPheron brothers (my favorite) two elderly men who’ve never been married and live together on their farm and agree to take in the pregnant Victoria to live with them. There are many other characters in this town that we get a glimpse at and their stories enter-twine with the main characters Haruf is a phenomenal writer full of compassion and understanding of the human soul!

  11. 4 out of 5

    Diane Barnes

    I read this many years ago and remembered the beautiful writing and the general sense of the book, but not the particulars. I also forgot that it was going to rip my heart out. Kent Haruf uses simple language better than any author I know to show the loneliness and disappointments inherent in the simple lives of his characters. There's not a lot of excitement in the small town of Holt, Colorado, but I literally couldn't put it down. Each chapter ended with a lump in my throat, or tears in my eye I read this many years ago and remembered the beautiful writing and the general sense of the book, but not the particulars. I also forgot that it was going to rip my heart out. Kent Haruf uses simple language better than any author I know to show the loneliness and disappointments inherent in the simple lives of his characters. There's not a lot of excitement in the small town of Holt, Colorado, but I literally couldn't put it down. Each chapter ended with a lump in my throat, or tears in my eyes, because of insights into these people trying to grow up, move on, grow old, make a life, do the right thing. The McPheron brothers........what can I say? I dare you to find a better pair of crusty old bachelors anywhere in literature. I never got around to reading Eventide or Benediction, Haruf's following books in this trilogy, which is why I decided to re-read this one first. I can't imagine a more rewarding way to have spent the last two afternoons.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Elyse Walters

    Absolutely stunning jewel of a novel.... ...unassuming, ...unsentimental, spare writing...with a somber tone. ...In a small rural eastern Colorado town...we come to know several diverse and alluring characters. Everyone knows everybody in this community. The depictions of two young brothers (Ike and Bobby), riding their bicycles with their morning paper route, brings back childhood memories... life before cell phones or social media influences. Their father, (Tom Guthrie) is a teacher. Their mothe Absolutely stunning jewel of a novel.... ...unassuming, ...unsentimental, spare writing...with a somber tone. ...In a small rural eastern Colorado town...we come to know several diverse and alluring characters. Everyone knows everybody in this community. The depictions of two young brothers (Ike and Bobby), riding their bicycles with their morning paper route, brings back childhood memories... life before cell phones or social media influences. Their father, (Tom Guthrie) is a teacher. Their mother’s (Ella), depression keeps her in bed upstairs - not performing even a minuscule of duties. We meet another teacher (Maggie Jones), who tries to help a pregnant teenager (Victoria Roubideaux), after her mother tossed out of the house. Two bachelors/brothers, (Ray and Harold McPerons), cattle farm ranchers are a couple of charming old geezers. The beauty, simplicity and compassion shines through Haurf’s writing. There’s sadness, and struggles...but a little humor too. Be warned: there are a couple of violent scenes with animals...as well as graphic sexual scenes. This novel easily pulls readers in as it examines the extraordinaries of ordinary people—the inconsequentialness, depravity, and unkindness that life can be. Relatable characters- (we can’t help but fall in love with them). Relatable emotions > love, loss, grief, tenderness, and forgiveness. Wonderful as can be!!! A little sample writing: “She was an old woman in a thin flowered housedress with a long apron covering it. She was hump-back and required a hearing aid, and her hair was yellow and pulled into a knot, and her bare arms were spotted and freckled and the skin hung in folds above the elbows. On the back of one of her hands was a jagged purple bruise like a birthmark. When she was seated she took up a cigarette that was already lit and sucked on it and expelled smoke toward the ceiling in a gray steam. She was watching the two boys from behind her glasses. Her mouth was vivid red”. “The boys watched her out the corners of their eyes, fascinated and afraid. She wrapped her hand over her mouth and shut her eyes and coughed. Thin tears squeezed out of her eyes. But at last she stopped, and then she took her glasses off and removed a clot of Kleenex from the pocket of her apron and dabbed her eyes and blew her nose. She put her glasses on once more and looked at the two brothers sitting on the sofa watching her. Don’t you boys ever smoke, she said. Her voice was a rasping whisper now”.

  13. 5 out of 5

    JimZ

    This was a very enjoyable read. Interesting storyline. I liked the McPherons, two older bachelors who ended opening up their homestead to a 17-year old girl, Victoria, whose mother threw her out once she discovered she was pregnant. The novel takes place in a fictional town of Holt Colorado. The people typecast as the “baddies” in the novel (Dwayne, the baby’s father; Russell Beckman and his parents) were people I did not like, so the author accomplished his job there. This is novel about small- This was a very enjoyable read. Interesting storyline. I liked the McPherons, two older bachelors who ended opening up their homestead to a 17-year old girl, Victoria, whose mother threw her out once she discovered she was pregnant. The novel takes place in a fictional town of Holt Colorado. The people typecast as the “baddies” in the novel (Dwayne, the baby’s father; Russell Beckman and his parents) were people I did not like, so the author accomplished his job there. This is novel about small-town rural America. It was written in 1999 but I believe it has a timeless character to it — I did not feel I was reading anything dated. I thought it was over-sentimental at times (as defined by me breaking down into a puddle of tears a couple of times) — all in all I am glad I read it and would recommend it to others. 😊 Random thoughts and notes: • I liked the structure of the novel in that the chapter headings were that of the main protagonists of the story. • I’ve been aware of the name of this novel for the longest time (it’s been around for 21 years) but didn’t have the curiosity to read it, until I came upon Goodreads and read only complimentary reviews of this author and this novel. • I did not know that ‘plainsong’ was a word…I like it — any simple and unadorned melody or air. • ‘Plainsong’ was a finalist for the National Book Award for Fiction in 1999. Reviews (so many) …just a few I’ll select: https://movies2.nytimes.com/books/99/... https://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv... https://www.theguardian.com/books/200... https://www.austinchronicle.com/books...

  14. 5 out of 5

    Perry

    Three Soothing Kombolóia Like beading three kombolóia (strings of "worry beads" used in Greek culture), Kent Haruf weaved together three story threads, tight and tranquil, to bring honor to seven residents of fictional Holt, a small town on the Colorado high plains east of Denver, and their bonding together in three types of love, the familial, the philia and agape, to hurdle the predicaments life throws their way. Haruf wrote in such quiet, dulcet prose that reading his novels is calming, therap Three Soothing Kombolóia Like beading three kombolóia (strings of "worry beads" used in Greek culture), Kent Haruf weaved together three story threads, tight and tranquil, to bring honor to seven residents of fictional Holt, a small town on the Colorado high plains east of Denver, and their bonding together in three types of love, the familial, the philia and agape, to hurdle the predicaments life throws their way. Haruf wrote in such quiet, dulcet prose that reading his novels is calming, therapeutic. His stories salve and enrich and uplift the soul. The primary strand involves Victoria Roubideaux, a seventeen-year-old high school student whose mother threw her out of the house after learning Victoria was pregnant. A caring teacher named Maggie Jones discovers her plight and takes her in until problems arise in the living arrangements resulting from the Alzheimer's of Maggie's elderly father. Faced with this crisis, Maggie thinks of the two elderly, never-married McPheron brothers with a relatively large house on a 2,000 acre cattle ranch. These admirable, yet unrefined, men have a brusque demeanor. As the story develops, one can see their gruffness results from their timidity and strong sensitivity. Haruf infuses this relationship with a tender wit, especially in the brothers' awkwardness with Victoria. In discussing the 17-year-old, one brother tells the other: “A girl is different. They want things. They need things on a regular schedule. Why, a girl's got purposes you and me can't even imagine. They got ideas in their heads you and me can't even suppose.” Tom Guthrie teaches one of Victoria's classes. His wife, who suffers severe depression possibly compounded by drug abuse, recently abandoned Tom and their two sons, ten-year-old Ike and nine-year-old Bobby. Tom and the boys sometimes help out on the McPherons' ranch. Tom begins dating Maggie, while the boys suffer bullying from some much older boys and come face to face with mortality when they discover an elderly lady on their paper route dead one day. Haruf's supernal powers of description and observation give the novel a gentle timbre with a deep emotional subtext and Tempean evocations of nature. The discerning reader will be edified and stilled by a novel that, without any taint of mushiness or melodramatics, shows the power of love, of friends, of family and of fellow humans, to give normal people the courage to face life's troubles (Lord knows, we all have our share) and the strength to endure and mend.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Mark Porton

    Plainsong by Kent Haruf Trying to think of one word to describe this book – I would say “Brooding”. After about twenty pages I decided this was a book I needed to read slowly and deliberately. It was a slow burning, moody piece of work which made me feel. For what this book lacks in dialogue, it makes up for in atmosphere, space and anticipation. There’s only a handful of characters, each wonderfully portrayed by the author. My favourites were poor little Victoria Roubideaux and the McPherons. How Plainsong by Kent Haruf Trying to think of one word to describe this book – I would say “Brooding”. After about twenty pages I decided this was a book I needed to read slowly and deliberately. It was a slow burning, moody piece of work which made me feel. For what this book lacks in dialogue, it makes up for in atmosphere, space and anticipation. There’s only a handful of characters, each wonderfully portrayed by the author. My favourites were poor little Victoria Roubideaux and the McPherons. How could anyone one not feel for this young girl? The cards she had been dealt, the choices she made and the fascinating journey she takes us on in this book – her journey. There were parts of her story that made me feel sorry for her and some that just made me feel helpless as her tale of woe unfolded. Whereas the McPheron brothers, these odd isolated old men were surprisingly central to this story. Some of their conversations with each other were hilarious such as when Harold was comparing Victoria to a two-year-old calf-carrying heifer with regards to sleeping patterns. Raymond was dumbfounded. I’ve read many terrific books over the years but this one is right up there. It engendered similar feelings to those I felt when I read The Grapes of Wrath, which is perhaps my all-time favourite. 5 Stars

  16. 4 out of 5

    Jenny (Reading Envy)

    I have had this book on my shelf since 2012, when I first started collecting books to read for an Around the USA challenge that I planned at that time to finish in a year. Five years later I'm still working on it (I get easily distracted) but after discussing another novel by Kent Haruf on Reading Envy, I felt compelled to move this one up the list. The story moves between different characters, and the chapters are named after the characters being followed. It is always very clear where you are! I have had this book on my shelf since 2012, when I first started collecting books to read for an Around the USA challenge that I planned at that time to finish in a year. Five years later I'm still working on it (I get easily distracted) but after discussing another novel by Kent Haruf on Reading Envy, I felt compelled to move this one up the list. The story moves between different characters, and the chapters are named after the characters being followed. It is always very clear where you are! The pace is slow, but the town is a small town, and the people live small lives. It would be easy to dismiss the book, and them, if you aren't willing to pay attention. There are small beautiful parts in the writing that I really enjoyed, it was almost as if the author saw through the eyes of his characters and decided to look around for a minute. And by the end, I was completely emotionally invested in the characters, wanting them to find happiness. ETA: This sinks into you, and I ended up adding a star for the full five.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Phrynne

    My second book by this author and it was just as beautiful as the first. Haruf had such a light touch with words making everything seem simple and calm. Basic vocabulary, only the most necessary dialogue and no long inner monologues means everything is shown not told. And Haruf knew exactly how to use words to show. The characters draw the reader in slowly until you start to really care for them and worry about what is going to happen to them. This story portrays small town life in Colorado and a My second book by this author and it was just as beautiful as the first. Haruf had such a light touch with words making everything seem simple and calm. Basic vocabulary, only the most necessary dialogue and no long inner monologues means everything is shown not told. And Haruf knew exactly how to use words to show. The characters draw the reader in slowly until you start to really care for them and worry about what is going to happen to them. This story portrays small town life in Colorado and although it has its share of unpleasant people the book concentrates on the ones who care and the ones who try to help others in need. Harold and Raymond McPheron, Tom Guthrie and Maggie Jones were my favourites and were all people you would be proud to know. This is a book to read if you are ever despairing of human nature or if you need something restful between more action packed books. Read it slowly and enjoy:)

  18. 5 out of 5

    Dave Clapper

    Oh, what a beautiful book. Haruf's language is so deceptively simple--there's probably not a word in the book beyond sixth grade reading level. But with this simple language, he creates such beautiful, sad, lonely, human people. I'm particularly in love with the McPheron brothers, two elderly bachelor farmer brothers (and they're the single largest reason I think Nance needs to read this book). Something else about the simplicity of the language--I can't recall a single time that Haruf directly s Oh, what a beautiful book. Haruf's language is so deceptively simple--there's probably not a word in the book beyond sixth grade reading level. But with this simple language, he creates such beautiful, sad, lonely, human people. I'm particularly in love with the McPheron brothers, two elderly bachelor farmer brothers (and they're the single largest reason I think Nance needs to read this book). Something else about the simplicity of the language--I can't recall a single time that Haruf directly stated what a character was feeling. There were no internal dialogs, and no mentions of the words sad, happy, angry, or any of their synonyms (that I remember). Rather, Haruf simply relates their actions and their words between one another, and the reader makes a much stronger tie to what the characters are feeling. This may be the most literal rendering of the "show, don't tell" rule I've ever read. Many times, during the course of reading, I found myself pleading with the characters not to do what I knew they were going to do. But of course they did, not because a cheesy plot demanded it, but because it was the only thing these oh-so-very-real characters would do in the circumstances. The final chapter was a bit of a let-down, I have to admit--it tied things up a bit neatly for my tastes, especially considering how very, very real every moment to that point felt. But it wasn't enough of a let-down to make this anything less than a five star book. Highly, highly recommended. Beautiful, sad, human, and hopeful.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Zoeytron

    This is an endearing story that is spun from the fabric of small town life in Holt, Colorado. Regular, decent folk at their finest, with just a few bad eggs thrown in for seasoning and texture. If this had been sappy in any way, I would have run for the hills, screaming. Let me assure you, there is an utter dearth of sappiness here, just a lovely story that will make your heart grow two sizes bigger. Not sure how such spare, simple writing managed to penetrate my stony exterior, but it did. I re This is an endearing story that is spun from the fabric of small town life in Holt, Colorado. Regular, decent folk at their finest, with just a few bad eggs thrown in for seasoning and texture. If this had been sappy in any way, I would have run for the hills, screaming. Let me assure you, there is an utter dearth of sappiness here, just a lovely story that will make your heart grow two sizes bigger. Not sure how such spare, simple writing managed to penetrate my stony exterior, but it did. I really cared about these people and the parallels contained within the pages were striking. As an aside, once upon a time, copies were made with mimeograph machines. You know, the ones with the manual crank thing and purple ink? There was a brief mention of those old ditto machines and it brought back happy memories of lifting those pieces of paper handed out by the teacher and inhaling deeply. I can almost smell it to this very day. Almost everyone did it. Really.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Carol

    One of my all time favorite books...beautifully written and spare...my favorite kind of novel. It rang so true to my Eastern Colorado roots. I felt that I personally recognized some of the characters in the story.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Camie

    Plainsong, a simple unadorned melody, is a perfect title for this book, Haruf's style being beautifully spare and yet powerfully moving. This award winning book takes place in a small town on the high plains of Colorado and chronicles the lives of some of it's struggling residents namely a lonely school teacher and his young sons who've been abandoned by their depressed wife and mother, a forgotten inbound widow, a caretaker and her elderly father, two rough on the exterior old bachelor brothers Plainsong, a simple unadorned melody, is a perfect title for this book, Haruf's style being beautifully spare and yet powerfully moving. This award winning book takes place in a small town on the high plains of Colorado and chronicles the lives of some of it's struggling residents namely a lonely school teacher and his young sons who've been abandoned by their depressed wife and mother, a forgotten inbound widow, a caretaker and her elderly father, two rough on the exterior old bachelor brothers , and an abandoned pregnant teenage girl. This is an unflinching look at how life's harshest challenges can draw unexpected people together and strengthen them. A favorite Wailing Jenny's song " One Voice" would be a perfect soundtrack here. A great song that goes from a single sweet clear A Capella voice to that of an all encompassing three part harmony. 4.5 stars

  22. 5 out of 5

    Hugh

    This is my second Haruf novel - I enjoyed reading Our Souls at Night a couple of years ago. Once again we are in and around the small town of Holt in eastern Colorado. This one has a structure reminiscent of Faulkner's As I Lay Dying, with each chapter headed by the character (or in some cases pair) which is its primary focus. It is a touching story, written in plain language, which has two central plots. In one, two young boys and their teacher father come to terms with the wife/mother's decisio This is my second Haruf novel - I enjoyed reading Our Souls at Night a couple of years ago. Once again we are in and around the small town of Holt in eastern Colorado. This one has a structure reminiscent of Faulkner's As I Lay Dying, with each chapter headed by the character (or in some cases pair) which is its primary focus. It is a touching story, written in plain language, which has two central plots. In one, two young boys and their teacher father come to terms with the wife/mother's decision to leave them, and the consequences of the teacher's decision to punish a bully from an influential family. In the other, a schoolgirl becomes pregnant and is thrown put by her mother, and another teacher has the idea of persuading two old bachelor brothers to accommodate her on their remote farm. I can appreciate the craft and liked some parts a lot, but for reasons I can't quite put my finger on it there were elements that didn't quite convince me.

  23. 4 out of 5

    ij

    Great story!!! Great characters!!! Great writing!!!!

  24. 5 out of 5

    *TANYA*

    Very endearing characters!! The writing was great, as well as the story. I’m going to have to watch the movie to se if it’s as good as the book. Fingers crossed!!!

  25. 5 out of 5

    Carol

    In Plainsong Kent Haruf weaves a damn good yarn with true-to-life characters and their everyday struggles living in rural Colorado.The two wacky and wonderful old brothers who readily welcome a 17 year old (pregnant) teen into their home captured my heart early on as well as the two young curious brothers, abandoned by their mother, who befriend a lonely old woman, experience some pretty hard knocks and learn some facts of life by peering thru the window of an abandoned old shed.While Our Souls In Plainsong Kent Haruf weaves a damn good yarn with true-to-life characters and their everyday struggles living in rural Colorado.The two wacky and wonderful old brothers who readily welcome a 17 year old (pregnant) teen into their home captured my heart early on as well as the two young curious brothers, abandoned by their mother, who befriend a lonely old woman, experience some pretty hard knocks and learn some facts of life by peering thru the window of an abandoned old shed.While Our Souls at Night remains my favorite Haruf novel thus far, the simplicity of his writing style entices me to read more.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Connie

    Haruf's writing is as comforting to me as tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches on a cold winter day. For a reader who has memories of an idilic growing up when I read his stories I feel like I am going home and I am so glad there are stories that can take me there. The sounds, smells, voices and memories all come alive. His prose is simple, yet so beautiful and paints such a vivid picture. His characters are earthy, there is no pretense about them, they are everyday people living ordinary Haruf's writing is as comforting to me as tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches on a cold winter day. For a reader who has memories of an idilic growing up when I read his stories I feel like I am going home and I am so glad there are stories that can take me there. The sounds, smells, voices and memories all come alive. His prose is simple, yet so beautiful and paints such a vivid picture. His characters are earthy, there is no pretense about them, they are everyday people living ordinary lives. This story describes small town Americana down to every detail. I fall for his characters and within a few pages I am invested in the story that is unfolding in through his words. They could be my neighbors, my family....they could be me. In Plainsong, there were many characters that were easy to love.....the young people particularly. They still had a kind of awe at the world around them. The "adults" had some tarnish on them, were a bit rough about the edges due life lived, but their hearts and kindness came through. These characters have their own problems, yet as their lives intertwine in unexpected ways they form almost a family bond. There isa quietness, a wisdom and a lesson in his writing. Haruf does not write to everyone's taste. There is no action, no mystery, no mayhem nor high drama. There is a beautiful story that makes you look around and appreciate the small things that come into your life. He allows you to escape to a simpler time when life didn't seem so large and so unconquerable.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Pedro

    Holt, the fictional small town where this story is set, is like a big city compared to the place where I grew up and lived, for what it still is, the biggest part of my life. For better or for worse, nothing about living in a very small and isolated place is a big mystery to me. Add this to Haruf’s beautiful writing style and masterful character development and maybe it becomes quite understandable that not only I loved this story but it also became a totally new reading experience. Why a totally Holt, the fictional small town where this story is set, is like a big city compared to the place where I grew up and lived, for what it still is, the biggest part of my life. For better or for worse, nothing about living in a very small and isolated place is a big mystery to me. Add this to Haruf’s beautiful writing style and masterful character development and maybe it becomes quite understandable that not only I loved this story but it also became a totally new reading experience. Why a totally a new experience you may ask. Well, because I actually didn’t want anything to happen. Seriously. I just wanted these people to cook some dinner, do the dishes, talk to each other, go to school or to work or for a pleasant bike or horse ride. All I could see though was danger everywhere and in every situation so I was talking to them all the time; ‘Be careful while doing the dishes’, ‘Don’t go that way’, don’t talk to strangers’ and so on. All I wanted was for them to be happy. They’re my friends now and I care about them. That’s what friends do, right?

  28. 4 out of 5

    Britany

    This is the book that sneaks up on you... I didn't realize how invested I was in the characters and their stories, until the author dangles their safety and lives in front of me and I find myself reading in a frenzy to ensure that everything is ok. Sneaky, sneaky. Holt, Colorado is a small town; seemingly everybody knows everybody and everybody's business. Couple of mundane, typical stories slowly thread themselves into your heart and realize that you've come to love each and every one of them in This is the book that sneaks up on you... I didn't realize how invested I was in the characters and their stories, until the author dangles their safety and lives in front of me and I find myself reading in a frenzy to ensure that everything is ok. Sneaky, sneaky. Holt, Colorado is a small town; seemingly everybody knows everybody and everybody's business. Couple of mundane, typical stories slowly thread themselves into your heart and realize that you've come to love each and every one of them in a different way. From Victoria- the girl you want to stand up for herself, to Ike & Bobby the brothers who have seen much more than they can understand, and still protray the innocence of living in a small town. Tom & the Pheron Brothers also have a soft spot in my heart-- standing up for their beliefs and making things right. This book isn't going to wow your socks off, or make you jump on your bed for joy. It's more like that comfy go-to old blanket that you grab on a cold night to wrap around your shoulders. It felt like a story I had read before, yet couldn't quite put my finger on which one it was...

  29. 4 out of 5

    Anne (On semi-hiatus)

    There are so many reviews of this beloved book that all I will say is that I really enjoyed it. Those dear sweet elderly McPheron brothers with no experience with women or girls and birthing other than with their cows were the highlight of this book for me. Any time they were "on stage" I was smiling at their dear, sweet, sometimes bungling efforts to help and care for a young pregnant girl, Victoria. However, I cannot help but compare this book to a novella by the same author, Our Souls at Nigh There are so many reviews of this beloved book that all I will say is that I really enjoyed it. Those dear sweet elderly McPheron brothers with no experience with women or girls and birthing other than with their cows were the highlight of this book for me. Any time they were "on stage" I was smiling at their dear, sweet, sometimes bungling efforts to help and care for a young pregnant girl, Victoria. However, I cannot help but compare this book to a novella by the same author, Our Souls at Night which I loved and was more deeply touched by and was a solid 5 star read for me.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Ingrid

    I've never read anything like this before. Extraordinary. Loved it. I've never read anything like this before. Extraordinary. Loved it.

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