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(Plainsong #1)

4.01  ·  Rating details ·  67,153 ratings  ·  5,272 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 October 4th 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 L…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)
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Community Reviews

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Average rating 4.01  · 
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 ·  67,153 ratings  ·  5,272 reviews

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Will Byrnes
Oct 29, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
Kent Haruf - 1943 - 2014 - image from the New York Times - photo credit - Michael Lionstar

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 spr
Nov 18, 2015 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 lit
Jul 24, 2015 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
Feb 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Welcome to the small town of Holt, Colorado and its surround countryside. I am not sure how it happened that I read this trilogy completely backwards, but now that I have read the last one (the first one last as any good backwards reader will tell you), I can now see where the feuds started, where the marriages broke down, where new relationships were formed, where people lived – together and apart – and how their individual stories began to intertwine with those of their neighbours, their frien ...more
Nov 12, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm a private, introverted person. I don't enjoy debates or big flare-up arguments, with loud splotches of emotion. Whack! There's some emphatic feeling right there, all messy on the floor. Maybe it's my Canadian-ness, or a result of my upbringing in a house where my parents always kept their troubles quietly to themselves.

As a result of this personality trait, it follows that I don't like BIG CAPITAL LETTERS, loads!!!!!!!! of exclamation marks, or all kinds of emphasis, bejewelling and explana
Jan 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: current-lit-us
Plainsong is my second Kent Haruf novel and an easy 5 stars!
This powerful tale of small town life is set in Holt, a rural community near Denver in Colorado.
The small cast of carefully drawn characters struggle with the challenges and quiet disasters of life.
A young girl copes with an unplanned pregnancy, a school teacher lives through a marriage break up, his young sons try to make sense of the troubled world they find themselves in and two elderly brothers live in frigid isolation on their cat
Feb 08, 2016 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,
Beautiful, a beautiful book.
Thanks to all the good Goodreads friends who kept recommending this book to me.
Especially the relationship and love between the gentle old farmer brothers Harold and Raymond McPheron and the young and pregnant Victoria, who they take into their home after her mother cast her out, is heartfelt.
Wonderful writing, beautiful scenery... Great story.
I like the description on the back cover: A novel of haunting beauty, Plainsong explores the grace and hope of every human
Oct 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Those with melodious souls
Recommended to Dolors by: Jan Rice
Shelves: dost, read-in-2017
The stories displayed in this novel are simple and unadorned, both by the mundane events going on in the lives of these ordinary characters, and by the sober style of Haruf’s prose, which brings them to life. But when you sing these plain tunes together, a canon of imitations of melody, recurrent patterns and apparently disparate circumstances, compose a more colorful, richer symphony that is anything but simple.

In the small community of Holt, Colorado, Tom Gurthie, a high school history teacher
Feb 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Simply, a beautiful book!
Holt, Colorado in the 1980’s
Great characters, many with personal problems to work through.
Tom Guthrie..a schoolteacher with two young boys to bring up who has a wife incapacitated by depression.
Victoria...a 17 yr old schoolgirl who gets kicked out of her home by her mother when she becomes pregnant.
The McPheron brothers (my favorite) two elderly men who’ve never been married and live together on their farm and agree to take in the pregnant Victoria to live with them.
Diane Barnes
Aug 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: re-reads, favorites
I read this many years ago and remembered the beautiful writing and the general sense of the book, but not the particulars. I also forgot that it was going to rip my heart out. Kent Haruf uses simple language better than any author I know to show the loneliness and disappointments inherent in the simple lives of his characters. There's not a lot of excitement in the small town of Holt, Colorado, but I literally couldn't put it down. Each chapter ended with a lump in my throat, or tears in my eye ...more
Sep 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
This was a very enjoyable read. Interesting storyline. I liked the McPherons, two older bachelors who ended opening up their homestead to a 17-year old girl, Victoria, whose mother threw her out once she discovered she was pregnant. The novel takes place in a fictional town of Holt Colorado. The people typecast as the “baddies” in the novel (Dwayne, the baby’s father; Russell Beckman and his parents) were people I did not like, so the author accomplished his job there. This is novel about small- ...more
Elyse  Walters
Absolutely stunning jewel of a novel....
spare writing...with a somber tone.

...In a small rural eastern Colorado town...we come to know several diverse and alluring characters.
Everyone knows everybody in this community.

The depictions of two young brothers (Ike and Bobby), riding their bicycles with their morning paper route, brings back childhood memories...
life before cell phones or social media influences.
Their father, (Tom Guthrie) is a teacher.
Their mothe
Feb 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
Three Soothing Kombolóia

Like beading three kombolóia (strings of "worry beads" used in Greek culture), Kent Haruf weaved together three story threads, tight and tranquil, to bring honor to seven residents of fictional Holt, a small town on the Colorado high plains east of Denver, and their bonding together in three types of love, the familial, the philia and agape, to hurdle the predicaments life throws their way.

Haruf wrote in such quiet, dulcet prose that reading his novels is calming, therap
Jenny (Reading Envy)
I have had this book on my shelf since 2012, when I first started collecting books to read for an Around the USA challenge that I planned at that time to finish in a year. Five years later I'm still working on it (I get easily distracted) but after discussing another novel by Kent Haruf on Reading Envy, I felt compelled to move this one up the list.

The story moves between different characters, and the chapters are named after the characters being followed. It is always very clear where you are!
Mark Porton
Apr 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 5-stars
Plainsong by Kent Haruf

Trying to think of one word to describe this book – I would say “Brooding”.

After about twenty pages I decided this was a book I needed to read slowly and deliberately. It was a slow burning, moody piece of work which made me feel. For what this book lacks in dialogue, it makes up for in atmosphere, space and anticipation.

There’s only a handful of characters, each wonderfully portrayed by the author. My favourites were poor little Victoria Roubideaux and the McPherons.

Oct 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
My second book by this author and it was just as beautiful as the first. Haruf had such a light touch with words making everything seem simple and calm. Basic vocabulary, only the most necessary dialogue and no long inner monologues means everything is shown not told. And Haruf knew exactly how to use words to show.

The characters draw the reader in slowly until you start to really care for them and worry about what is going to happen to them. This story portrays small town life in Colorado and a
Dave Clapper
Jul 27, 2007 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
Jun 18, 2014 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
Mar 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Plainsong, a simple unadorned melody, is a perfect title for this book, Haruf's style being beautifully spare and yet powerfully moving. This award winning book takes place in a small town on the high plains of Colorado and chronicles the lives of some of it's struggling residents namely a lonely school teacher and his young sons who've been abandoned by their depressed wife and mother, a forgotten inbound widow, a caretaker and her elderly father, two rough on the exterior old bachelor brothers ...more
Mar 20, 2011 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.
Aug 15, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is my second Haruf novel - I enjoyed reading Our Souls at Night a couple of years ago. Once again we are in and around the small town of Holt in eastern Colorado. This one has a structure reminiscent of Faulkner's As I Lay Dying, with each chapter headed by the character (or in some cases pair) which is its primary focus.

It is a touching story, written in plain language, which has two central plots. In one, two young boys and their teacher father come to terms with the wife/mother's decisio
Aug 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Great story!!! Great characters!!! Great writing!!!!
Oct 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: own-it
Very endearing characters!! The writing was great, as well as the story. I’m going to have to watch the movie to se if it’s as good as the book. Fingers crossed!!!
Feb 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: i-deserved-it
Holt, the fictional small town where this story is set, is like a big city compared to the place where I grew up and lived, for what it still is, the biggest part of my life. For better or for worse, nothing about living in a very small and isolated place is a big mystery to me. Add this to Haruf’s beautiful writing style and masterful character development and maybe it becomes quite understandable that not only I loved this story but it also became a totally new reading experience.

Why a totally
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
Mar 28, 2013 rated it really liked it
In Plainsong Kent Haruf weaves a damn 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

Anne (On semi-hiatus)
Apr 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: library, 2020, audio
There are so many reviews of this beloved book that all I will say is that I really enjoyed it. Those dear sweet elderly McPheron brothers with no experience with women or girls and birthing other than with their cows were the highlight of this book for me. Any time they were "on stage" I was smiling at their dear, sweet, sometimes bungling efforts to help and care for a young pregnant girl, Victoria. However, I cannot help but compare this book to a novella by the same author, Our Souls at Nigh ...more
Aug 24, 2012 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
Feb 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I've never read anything like this before. Extraordinary. Loved it. ...more
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Play Book Tag: Plainsong - Kent Karen - 4 stars 1 10 Oct 07, 2020 09:15AM  
Play Book Tag: [Poll Ballot] Plainsong by Kent Haruf - 4 stars 1 9 Sep 24, 2020 09:48AM  
Play Book Tag: (Poll Ballot) Plainsong by Kent Haruf - 5000 stars 7 18 May 10, 2020 10:33PM  
Catching up on Cl...: Plainsong, by Kent Haruf 106 85 Nov 17, 2019 06:52AM  
Ike & Bobby 2 44 Sep 26, 2018 12:42PM  
Ike and Bobby 1 10 Sep 26, 2018 10:24AM  

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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

Other books in the series

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

News & Interviews

What will you do when it's your turn to pick your book club's next read? Well, this is what you won't do: panic. Why not? Because we've dug...
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“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.” 12 likes
“Honey, Maggie Jones said. Victoria. Listen to me. You're here now. This is where you are.” 11 likes
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