Plainsong takes place in the fictional town of Holt, Colorado, and mostly chronicles the lives of some of the residents in a very direct but poignant way. It’s the kind of book that I mostly liked, but I have a hard time understanding why. Let’s see how I do explaining it.
There are three or four main story lines. In one, 17-year-old Victoria is pregnant and her mother kicked her out of the house. Elderly, lifelong bachelors, Harold and Raymond Mcpheron, take her in. In another story line, young brothers Ike and Bobby Guthrie are quietly struggling when their mother abandons them while their father, Tom, tries to move on with his life.
I particularly liked the story line about Victoria and the McPheron brothers. The brothers had been isolated on their cattle ranch since high school, mostly keeping company with each other. Although socially awkward, they’re kind and decent and just what Victoria needs. It turns out they need her, too. They are absolutely mystified by the teenager and constantly fretting that they’re doing something wrong. It’s really sweet and funny. Ultimately, they figure out how to make a little family and the brothers aren’t so lonely anymore and neither is Victoria.
I also enjoyed reading about Ike and Bobby. They are good, serious kids trying their best to adjust to the collapse of their family. The author often describes them as having the same expressions, reactions and mannerisms, almost as if they are a single unit. I found myself wondering if they would eventually turn out like the McPheron brothers, sticking with each other out of comfort and trust.
Now that I’ve written this, it seems that what I liked about the book were the characters and the decency they showed to each other. There wasn’t an intricate plot – just people living their lives in a small town with pretty typical highs and lows of every day life. And the stories were told in a direct, unflowery way that I liked. Some might find it too dry, but not me.
It wasn’t all good, though. There were a couple of scenes that were rather jarring. In one of them, one of the Guthrie’s horses died and the field autopsy was written about in grizzly detail. In another, some high school students were having sex, also told in detail. Ike and Bobby witnessed both. Maybe the author meant these as “coming of age scenes?” Not sure, but they tripped me up!
So I’ll give Plainsong a cautionary thumbs up. It’s probably not for everyone but I liked it. (And, really, I could say that about every book I like, right?)
Warning: gross barnyard animal details, several sex scenes, and author has an apparent aversion to quotation marks.
Have you read Plainsong or anything else by Kent Haruf? Share your opinion and set me straight!