Sunday, April 28, 2013

Review of Plainsong by Kent Haruf

Our latest bookclub choice, Plainsong by Kent Haruf, was a lovely read. It reminded me of Steinbeck's writing somehow. Set in a small town Holt in Colorado, it has a timeless feel to it and yet feels like it is set in the 60s. The book centres around a few main characters - two bachelor brothers in their sixties who live 17 miles from the town, a young girl who falls pregnant and is disowned by her mother, Tom Guthrie who is a teacher at the secondary school, his two young sons, his wife undergoing depression who moves away and another teacher Maggie Jones. The plot serves to tie these characters together in one way or another during the course of the novel. As with all small towns, everyone seems to know each other's business and there are undercurrents of tension and of fear as well as neighbourliness and support.

The plot is fairly simple and moments of tension are rare. However, when they did occur, I could feel my reading speed up until I knew the characters were okay again, at least for the moment.  The language is beautiful and makes reading this novel such a pleasure - it almost seems musical and lilting. I was initially slightly irritated by the absence of punctuation marks around the speech but got used to it quickly and their absence seemed to add to the flow of the language.  The descriptive passages are long and speech is brief which seems to also symbolise the brevity of speech amongst the characters. It seems as they get to know each other better that speech becomes less necessary and the same goes for the reader - we don't need their speech as much - the beauty is in the quality of the imagery. The 2 older brothers in particular have a lovely attitude, they seem to take life one day at a time, respect nature and only plan ahead when it is necessary. I also liked their reflections on nature, on birth and death, their love for the land and their animals as well as their growing regard for a young pregnant girl.

There's two more books in the series and I'm looking forward to reading both of them Eventide and Benediction, both of which deal with characters in the same town in years to come.

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