‘Plainsong’ by Kent Haruf

October 13, 2015 at 12:21 pm Leave a comment

plainsongKent Haruf’s Plainsong reminds me of Cormac McCarthy or Larry McMurtry at their best. It’s a story about the West, in plain, unadorned language. The people he represents are spare, in the best possible sense; there’s not a lot of room for frivolity in their lives. There are cows to feed; there’s winter to survive; there are basketball stars who need to pass American History in order to graduate. There’s not a lot of time, necessarily, for love, romance, or pretty things.

Four stories are woven together. The one I found most compelling, as I think most people will, is that of Victoria Robideaux, a teenaged girl who becomes pregnant after a summer fling. She decides she wants to keep the baby, and the decision is oddly straightforward, presented without a lot of navel-gazing, without mention of religion or morality or anything else. The decision to keep the baby is presented as just that — her decision — and not anyone else’s business, really.

The other stories concern two boys named Ike and Bobby, who live a stunningly timeless childhood in this tiny Colorado town; their father, Tom Guthrie, who teaches at the high school; and the McPheron brothers, crusty old bachelors who find that coming out of their shells is both easier and more rewarding than they may have thought.

What I loved about Plainsong was its unadorned optimism. Life is hard in Holt, Colorado — the story is mostly set in fall, winter, and early spring. For those of you who do not live in the West, those are pretty miserable seasons, especially if it hasn’t snowed. Everything is brown and sad and dead, and sometime around February you begin to feel as though nothing will ever be green or pretty again.

But the people of Holt know better. The McPheron brothers know that spring will and must come, because their cows are pregnant, and calves mean spring. They form the optimistic core of this story, the hope, or maybe just the quiet knowledge that even though things look pretty bad now, eventually the buds will come on the trees and the calves will be born and things will be all right again. Ike, Bobby, Tom and Victoria rest in that hope and draw strength from it, even when life seems unbearably bleak.

Maybe there’s a lesson to be had there about remaining close to the land. The McPherons are the only farmers (ranchers?) of the lot, and the ones that seem the most grounded, the most steady. The rest of the characters seem somewhat adrift in a lot of ways, until the trust the solidity of the McPherons. They are, in almost a literal sense, the salt of the earth. If the theme of George R. R. Martin’s work is “Winter is Coming,” the theme of Plainsong is exactly the opposite — “Spring is coming; this, too, shall pass.”

Advertisements

Entry filed under: Contemporary Fiction. Tags: , , , , , , .

Companion Reads: ‘The Paris Wife’ & ‘The Sun Also Rises’ ‘Bossypants’ by Tina Fey

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Trackback this post  |  Subscribe to the comments via RSS Feed


Connect with LT

literarytransgressions (Gmail)

@LitTransgressor (Twitter)

LT RSS feed (Subscribe)

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 132 other followers

Categories

LT Archives

In accordance with FTC regulations…

...we must disclose that we are independent bloggers with no ties to authors, publishers, or advertisers. We are not given books or monetary compensation in return for favorable reviews or publicity.

Where we have received advance or complementary copies of books, it will be noted in the body of the entry, and will not affect our review or opinions in the slightest.


%d bloggers like this: