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Plainsong (Plainsong #1)

3.97  ·  Rating Details  ·  40,691 Ratings  ·  3,047 Reviews
A heartstrong story of family and romance, tribulation and tenacity, set on the High Plains east of Denver.

In the small town of Holt, Colorado, a high school teacher is confronted with raising his two boys alone after their mother retreats first to the bedroom, then altogether. A teenage girl—her father long since disappeared, her mother unwilling to have her in the house—
Paperback, 301 pages
Published August 22nd 2000 by Vintage (first published 1999)
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Velma I believe that some authors prefer to write dialogue sans quotation marks to encourage (force) the reader to slow down the reading process in order to…moreI believe that some authors prefer to write dialogue sans quotation marks to encourage (force) the reader to slow down the reading process in order to increase understanding and savor the prose. An article discussing this idea can be found here. The author of the article doesn't care for the practice, but personally I think, in this case in particular, it supports Haruf's spare style.
Rebecca I taught this novel to high school juniors and seniors. The book was assigned as summer reading, and I paired it with Carso McCullars The Heart Is a…moreI taught this novel to high school juniors and seniors. The book was assigned as summer reading, and I paired it with Carso McCullars The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter. (less)
Plainsong by Kent HarufBlind Thrust by Samuel MarquisThe Coalition by Samuel MarquisThe Shining by Stephen KingThe Slush Pile Brigade by Samuel Marquis
1st out of 114 books — 61 voters
The Help by Kathryn StockettThe Kite Runner by Khaled HosseiniWater for Elephants by Sara GruenThe Book Thief by Markus ZusakTo Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Best for Book Clubs
413th out of 3,957 books — 9,897 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Dec 10, 2015 Cecily rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Cecily by: Steve Sckenda
Colorado High Plains, image source:


Peek between the gaps to appreciate the pared-down beauty of this book. At its heart, is absence: the words not used, the thoughts not made explicit, the loved-ones left or lost, the open space in which it is set.

The language is plain, utilitarian, and unsentimental, as are the situations described in the short chapters.

There is no backstory, there are no inner monologues - indeed, most of the characters say litt
Mar 22, 2016 Candi rated it it was amazing
A beautifully written novel set in the rural town of Holt, Colorado, Plainsong is a book I will not soon forget. The prose is modest yet so elegant in its simplicity. Nothing is overdone and yet what happens to the characters in this book is far from uneventful. A pair of young brothers that have to learn to adjust without a mother in the home, a teenage girl pregnant and without a home, a father trying to raise his boys on his own, and a pair of staunch old bachelors who are presented with a so ...more
Dave Clapper
Jul 28, 2007 Dave Clapper rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Nance, Kath, Lena, anyone
Oh, what a beautiful book. Haruf's language is so deceptively simple--there's probably not a word in the book beyond sixth grade reading level. But with this simple language, he creates such beautiful, sad, lonely, human people. I'm particularly in love with the McPheron brothers, two elderly bachelor farmer brothers (and they're the single largest reason I think Nance needs to read this book).

Something else about the simplicity of the language--I can't recall a single time that Haruf directly s
Feb 11, 2016 Lyn rated it really liked it
A beautiful, heartbreaking and ultimately redemptive novel.

Set in the fictional town of Holt, Colorado in the real life eastern plains of that Rocky mountain state, and adjacent to the great elevations, author Kent Haruf’s somber 1999 novel Plainsong explores the interconnected lives of a group of people living and dying in this western plains town.

Guthrie is a high school teacher raising two young boys and whose marriage is coming to a strange and murky end. Tom Guthrie is a simple western man,
Feb 03, 2015 Britany rated it really liked it
Shelves: own
This is the book that sneaks up on you...

I didn't realize how invested I was in the characters and their stories, until the author dangles their safety and lives in front of me and I find myself reading in a frenzy to ensure that everything is ok. Sneaky, sneaky.

Holt, Colorado is a small town; seemingly everybody knows everybody and everybody's business. Couple of mundane, typical stories slowly thread themselves into your heart and realize that you've come to love each and every one of them in
Haruf's writing is as comforting to me as tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches on a cold winter day. For a reader who has memories of an idilic growing up when I read his stories I feel like I am going home and I am so glad there are stories that can take me there. The sounds, smells, voices and memories all come alive.

His prose is simple, yet so beautiful and paints such a vivid picture. His characters are earthy, there is no pretense about them, they are everyday people living ordinary
Jun 28, 2015 Carol rated it really liked it
In Plainsong Kent Haruf tells a dam good yarn with true-to-life characters and their everyday struggles living in rural Colorado.

The two wacky and wonderful old brothers who readily welcome a 17 year old (pregnant) teen into their home captured my heart early on as well as the two young curious brothers, abandoned by their mother, who befriend a lonely old woman, experience some pretty hard knocks and learn some facts of life by peering thru the window of an abandoned old shed.

While Our Souls at

Aug 27, 2015 Zoeytron rated it really liked it
This is an endearing story that is spun from the fabric of small town life in Holt, Colorado. Regular, decent folk at their finest, with just a few bad eggs thrown in for seasoning and texture. If this had been sappy in any way, I would have run for the hills, screaming. Let me assure you, there is an utter dearth of sappiness here, just a lovely story that will make your heart grow two sizes bigger. Not sure how such spare, simple writing managed to penetrate my stony exterior, but it did. I re ...more
Ron Charles
May 05, 2015 Ron Charles rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The glamour of the National Book Awards ceremony blows away the fusty air of the book world every November. Big publishers buy up acres of the banquet hall at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square. Little houses splurge a year's publicity budget on the $1,000-a-plate dinner. Even without the medals hanging from their necks, the nominees would stick out: New authors appear in ill-advised outfits, like red Nehru jackets or brocade gowns inspired by "King Lear," choices probably pushed on these quie ...more
Aug 06, 2007 Mark rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
This is a quietly beautiful book. I think most Americans -- and maybe others -- are suckers for well-told tales of small town life, even though small towns, and their virtues and vices, are quickly disappearing. This story has finely drawn characters and is centered on the life a high school teacher who is raising his two boys pretty much single handedly as his wife sinks into depression. But the hopeful thread of the story lives in the tale of a young woman who becomes pregnant and must seek he ...more
Mar 10, 2013 Dem rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.5 stars
Plainsong by Kent Haruf is a beautifully written novel and a nice easy read. This novel tells a simple story describing the lives of some of the residents in Holt, Colorado.
Tom Guthrie is a history teacher at the area high school. He is left to raise two sons Ike and Bobby after his wife abandons him and their family.
Victoria, a 17 year-old high school senior, is thrown out of her house by her crude and bitter mother after she had learned that her daughter is pregnant.
The McPheron
Jan 15, 2013 Cheryl rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Cheryl by: Kimbofo
A graceful, quiet yet powerful book. It is a study of small town life, told through several characters in alternating chapters. There is nothing new here -- just everyday lives with the usual problems. Some people have more good than bad in them, some have more bad than good, and a lot of people just don't know how to balance any of that. The crusty old bachelor brother farmers in particular were wonderful characters.
Haruf has an extraordinary ability to create characters that speak directly fro
Aug 27, 2008 Mark rated it really liked it
Plainsong, and its sequel Eventide, are both beautifully written stories of about simple honest people trying to live their lives as best they can. I cannot overemphasize how well-written these books are. The narrator never intrudes on the story, which may be the best sign of a good writer.
Apr 03, 2016 orsodimondo rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: americana
Anche se non ho mai guidato un vecchio furgone Dodge rosso sbiadito con l’ammaccatura sul parafango posteriore; anche se la mia colazione non prevede uova strapazzate preparate su una padella di ghisa; anche se non incrocio tutti i giorni bambini a cavallo; anche se il giornale non mi viene lanciato ogni mattina sulla porta di casa; anche se nel mio orizzonte non vedo spesso svettare serbatoi per l’acqua e silos; anche se non sono solito passeggiare per Main Street o svoltare
Will Byrnes
Oct 29, 2008 Will Byrnes rated it really liked it
Victoria Robideaux is 17 and pregnant. Her mother throws her out and she is taken in, for a time, by the kindly Maggie Jones. But Maggie’s old father is off his rocker and this makes for a dangerous household for Vicky. She winds up with two brothers, Raymond and Harold McPheron, sheltered gentlemen who have spent their entire lives working the same ranch in the home in which they grew up. The love that springs up in this makeshift family is a glory to behold. Dark forces abide in the town as we ...more
Apr 16, 2016 Liz rated it it was amazing
Plainsong is the second book I’ve read by this author and it is even more wonderful than the first (Our Souls at Night). I’ve been trying to work out why it is I’m so fascinated by Haruf’s writing based on these two books. I can think of a lot of words to describe his prose but the best would be to say that it’s both spare and elegant. Mr. Haruf manages to capture this period of time in the lives of his characters with outstanding emotional nuance, all the while pushing the story forward in a di ...more
Nov 18, 2015 Tania rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
3.5 stars. A quiet, well-written book about dealing with change and loneliness. I loved all the characters, they were all so sweet and human - I normally prefer characters with more faults, but in this book it worked for me. Special favorites were ... no can't do it, I fell in love with them all. Because of this, I will be reading the 2nd book in the series. The issues and solutions in the book also felt very real - there were no dramatic conclusions, just everyday life happening to everyday peo ...more
Book Concierge
Plainsong – the unisonous vocal music used in the Christian church from the earliest times; any simple and unadorned melody or air

This definition perfectly describes this gentle, unassuming yet impactful novel. Haruf introduces us to several residents of the small town of Holt, Colorado: Tom Guthrie, a high school teacher struggling to raise his two young sons (Ike and Bobby, ages 9 and 10) after their mother leaves; Victoria Robideaux, a pregnant teenager forced to try to make it on her own; th
Colin McKay Miller
EDIT: Updated the description to appease comment super fans.

Plainsong is the story of intersecting lives in a small town in Colorado: A teacher (Tom Guthrie), his kids (Ike and Bobby), a pregnant 17-year-old (Victoria Roubideaux), and the elderly bachelor farmers (the McPherons). High school teacher Maggie Jones is the one character tying them together, but she is never given a (third-person) chapter viewpoint like the other main characters. Unlike most of Plainsong, this move is to Haruf’s cred
Nov 23, 2008 Jill rated it it was amazing
I bought this book in Salem, but didn't read it until I was in Montana, which is fitting for the book. Read it again last week, and as it's been a couple of years, I got to enjoy again, as though for the first time, the evocative language of Haruf's writing.

The texture of the language brought out the taste of a bitter winter Colorado wind, rushing along the flat, barren land. The plain spoken people were aptly described, rendering them not necessarily lovable, but realistic, living their lives i
Feb 14, 2016 Fewlas rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: americana
Molti si stupiranno nello scoprire che Steinbeck inizialmente aveva pensato a Uomini e topi come ad un dramma da intitolare Something that happened. In realtà, se si pensa alla natura di exemplum del suo testo, non bisognerebbe stupirsi poi molto. Cosa fa Steinbeck, infatti? Racconta l’americana perdita di innocenza facendo muovere dei personaggi che rappresentano vizi e virtù universali in un modo che ricorda molto i morality plays inglesi di epoca medievale. Da questo punto di vista Haruf somi ...more
Mar 20, 2011 Carol rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
One of my all time favorite books...beautifully written and favorite kind of novel. It rang so true to my Eastern Colorado roots. I felt that I personally recognized some of the characters in the story.
Io canto.

Storie la cui realtà è dura e sferzante come il vento freddo che soffia in inverno a Holt, Colorado.
Storie di gente semplice, di una comunità che ruota intorno a poche strade (la Main e la Second onnipresenti, la Chicago street, Railroad e poco altro, quasi che il paese, l'agglomerato, più che altro, sia tutto lì), al bestiame da marchiare, alla scuola dove insegna Tom Guthrie, alle giornate sempre uguali dei solitari fratelli McPheron - scontrosi e ignoranti. Tristi. Indipendenti. - e
Feb 28, 2016 Ron rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Holt è una piccola città del Colorado. Una città dal sapore antico e prezioso, dall'atmosfera accogliente e familiare, lontana dall'inquinamento etico del mondo moderno, quasi che il tempo si fosse ben guardato dall'intaccarla con il suo morbo fatale.
Canto della pianura è uno di quei romanzi che parlano della vita, dell'esistenza che trascorriamo ogni giorno, delle difficoltà di un mondo complesso ed egoista, delle battaglie quotidiane che combattiamo, contro noi stessi e contro gli altri. Ce ne
Feb 02, 2016 Barbara rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Barbara by: Debby Sisson
This is a beautiful, tender rendering of a small, mid-western town called Holt and its surrounding communities. Haruf's narrative is simple, yet elegant; sweet, yet realistic, always totally compelling. I experienced many mood swings while reading, from tears to laughter and empathy to outrage.

The characters continually evoke a strong sense of community throughout the novel. It was apparent that nothing remains secret in such an atmosphere, but the inhabitants often played their parts as a large
Jan 09, 2008 Lucy rated it liked it
The first page of this book has a definition of the word plainsong. It is:

"any simple and unadorned melody or air."

I appreciated this book more than I liked it. The author, Kent Haruf, writes with a vividly clear but simple prose about a small town in northeastern Colorado, a couple of hours from Denver, whose occupants struggle with their choices, their relationships and their opportunities.

Kind of a universal story, honestly, but in this setting - so sparse and empty - Haruf managed to develop
Feb 15, 2009 Annalisa rated it it was ok
I get the point of the novel: to give a glimpse of small town life without extravagance. Beauty in simplicity. But I felt more depressed then touched by Haruf's picture of a whole town of people lonely in their own selfish wandering aimlessly without direction. I didn't like any characters in the book, except for maybe the boys who weren't old enough to yet become bitter, mean, and immoral. Nobody else in the book cared about anyone else as they focused on their small lives. Nobody did anything ...more
Rachel Bash
Mar 12, 2008 Rachel Bash rated it really liked it
I'm from the Midwest, and though I agree with my East and West coast friends about some of its annoying (even madening) attributes (odd worship of football for one), I still believe it has a quiet, plain, yet surprising beauty all its own. This book captures that perfectly--the prose is spare, wiped clean of word-clutter, like the view I get out my window as I drive home across Iowa's corn fields. It's unadorned, but beautiful and communicative for that; because it says so little, what it does s ...more
Apr 06, 2013 Margitte rated it really liked it
I really loved the serene quietness, the honor, integrity, kindness and caring in the book. An American story where the good people still matters. Where loneliness are the common factor in the character's lives and how it is addressed the good ole American way. We need this kind of books in the modern world. I don't know if Holt, Denver really exists, but I wouldn't mind living there amongst those special people! I'm giving it four stars for the atmosphere, message, and intention of the book.
Aug 25, 2015 Kalen rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2015-reads
I don't even know where to start with this book and I'm sure I'll be coming back to this over the next few days to edit and add things I forgot.

Why did it take me so long to read Kent Haruf? I think a lot of it is that I worried he was too "blokey" for me and I wouldn't connect with the story or the characters. I sure was wrong.

Haruf's writing is beautiful and bare, like the landscape in which Plainsong is set. You can feel the winter wind and see the dust. His characters and his book are quie
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Kindle Book Club ...: Buddy Read, Plainsong By Kent Haruf, Discussion 27 25 Sep 05, 2015 08:56PM  
My favorite book of the last twenty years. 5 59 Dec 24, 2014 08:02AM  
Ike & Bobby 1 13 Dec 20, 2014 07:51AM  
What's The Name o...: SOLVED. Two old farmers take in a pregnant teen [s] 8 61 Nov 20, 2014 08:47PM  
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Kent Haruf was born in eastern Colorado. He received his Bachelors of Arts in literature from Nebraska Wesleyan University in 1965 and his Masters of Fine Arts from the Iowa Writers' Workshop at the University of Iowa in 1973. For two years, he taught English in Turkey with the Peace Corps and his other jobs have included a chicken farm in Colorado, a construction site in Wyoming, a rehabilitation ...more
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Other Books in the Series

Plainsong (3 books)
  • Eventide (Plainsong, #2)
  • Benediction (Plainsong, #3)

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“Honey, Maggie Jones said. Victoria. Listen to me. You're here now. This is where you are.” 10 likes
“A girl is different. They want things. They need things on a regular schedule. Why, a girl's got purposes you and me can't even imagine. They got ideas in their heads you and me can't even suppose.” 7 likes
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