Sunday, October 25, 2015

Plainsong - Colorado's own Kent Haruf

Kent Haruf’s first novel, Plainsong, set in a small town on the eastern plains of Colorado, reads like a set of short stories intertwined.  The title comes from a song style in which simple melodies are repeated and played out by different voices, to form a cohesive and satisfying whole.  A better title for this book cannot be imagined.

I particularly liked the stories of two sets of brothers, one set is young (ages 8 and 9), while the second are bachelor brothers described as old and most likely in the their mid-70’s.   The brothers in both sets are remarkably close—theirs are duets, one soprano and one bass.  The younger boys, Ike and Bobby, are the byproducts of a failing marriage—their depressed mother abandons her family and leaves for Denver early in the book, leaving their father, Guthrie, a local high-school teacher, to raise them, retain his integrity as a teacher, and rebuild his life.

Victoria is a pregnant teen, whose single mother throws her out when she discovers her pregnancy.  Victoria turns to one of her teachers, who finds her an unlikely home, but one in which she is treasured and nurtured but which she doesn't fully appreciate right away.

The stories in Plainsong are fairly simple—they’re about taking responsibility, caring for your family and community, living honorably, doing your best in the face of what life deals you. 
It’s easy to see why it was a 1999 National Book Award finalist, and won several other literary awards.

Kent Haruf died in 2014, and it was only with his passing that I discovered this Colorado writer whose writing is strong, simple, and powerful.  I definitely recommend it, especially if you are looking for books set in rural America.  Not glitzy, but full of the drama of life on the plains.

This is the 7th book on my official TBR Challenge Pile list that I've completed for 2015.  Woo Hoo!  I may get this challenge done this year after all.


  1. Great commentary on this book Jane.

    Simple stories can be so worthwhile. As I get a little bit older I am appreciating such tales more and more.

    I have heard good things about this book from several sources.

  2. I remember thinking about this book long after I'd finished reading. Sometimes a simple, straight-forward approach is just what I crave. Loved his final novel, Our Souls at Night. Want to go back and read Benediction soon.

  3. I also learned about this writer at his death, and then one of my book groups chose Our Souls at Night for this month's book. The members were telling them that this last book is connected to the Plainsong book and its sequels, so I've been thinking about reading them as well.

  4. I read this novel long ago but wouldn't mind reading it again to refresh my memory of it. I like the author's simple approach.