Plainsong. The characters write the novel.
May 7, 2013
I lost an argument with a friend who follows my blogs. I told him I had posted a book review on this book and movie months ago. He said I had not. He was right. I wrote it, but for whatever reason, failed to post it.
Anyone who has ever read any of my books knows that I have a fondness for small town and rural America. I can’t remember now, but that’s probably one of the reasons I bought and read Kent Haruf’s Plainsong. Another might be that it was a finalist for the National Book Award.
The word that comes to mind for this novel is “spare”. But I have to use other words to describe it because spare is in most of the other reviews written. A spare novel can be good or bad, depending on your tastes. This one works for me.
Haruf is a Colorado writer whose style is unusual. Take this first sentence: Here was this man Tom Guthrie in Holt standing at the back window in the kitchen of his house smoking cigarettes and looking out over the back lot where the sun was just coming up. I said, uh oh, maybe a little too literary. But it wasn’t.
I seldom write such long sentences and can’t imagine starting a book with wording like that. But then again, what do I know? Kent Haruf makes it work, and he sells a heck of a lot of books.
Only a few paragraphs later, I started to like Tom Guthrie. All the characters in this book are believable, flawed, sometimes humorous, and unusually empathetic. I found myself thinking, I know or knew someone just like this person.
Most of you know that I like character-driven novels and this definitely fits the mold. If you like suspense on every page or breathtaking excitement, this is not your cup of tea. But you will care enough about the characters to want to see how things turn out.
The author is excellent at maintaining an understated flow of events, at taking himself out of the picture and letting the characters write the book. There is a teacher and his two sons (abandoned by their mother), a pregnant teenager, and a couple of crusty bachelor farmers. I think you will love what happens among the farmers and the teenage girl.
Then there’s Maggie Jones, who sort of pulls it all together. The small town is also its own character. Let me know what you think. P. S. The movie version was on Hallmark movie channel when I wrote the original review. Check it out. The movie does justice to the book.