PLAINSONG by Kent Haruf
Reviewed by Janet Lan, Friday Morning Book Group.....take
(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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