PLAINSONG by Kent Haruf

Reviewed by Janet Lan, Friday Morning Book Group.....take our poll!

(May 19, 2005) One of the definitions for Plainsong is "a simple melody or theme often accompanied by a running melody." The simple theme of this unforgettable story is set in a small Colorado town and the running melody is a song to life in a rural community.

Most of the book group members felt that the seven main characters, whose intimate lives we watch develop, were well drawn. The apparent simplicity of the writing is as deceptive as the apparent simplicity of the country life. That life is hard and at times brutal is clearly expressed in a sympathetic and honest way. The events that occur in this relatively poor and struggling community are seen in all walks of life and yet with remarkably few resources the community manages to pull together and do what has to be done.

Here we see the problems of mental disease in the family of a teacher trying his best to keep track of his two young boys while dealing with career damaging school disciplinary problems. A broken family, a pregnant teenager, bullying, early sexuality, death and abandonment are woven into the story There's nothing new about these themes, but in this book they are sung with an underlying theme of hope and dignity.

We are introduced to two farming brothers who are fascinating characters and our group felt that maybe the two younger boys in the book represent these brothers in their youth. At any rate the closeness of both sets of empathetic siblings, who are left to fend for themselves, helps give them the strength and moral courage to survive under hard circumstances. They know the importance of work and helping others and some of the most memorable scenes involve comparisons of humans with animals.

Many of the people in the book are trying desperately to do the right thing. Yet we are left with no sense of conclusion and indeed, even this reflects reality. The story continues with the sequel to Plainsong in Eventide. Most book group members were drawn into the lives of these characters and we felt we would want to read the sequel, but after a reflective interval.

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