Richard's Reviews > Plainsong

Plainsong by Kent Haruf
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Dec 05, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: 2011

When people noticed I was reading "Peace Like a River," they kept recommending Plainsong, then my wife brought it home from the library to recommend to her book group, so I read it.

Amazing, and not at all like Peace Like a River in style or content. Yes, there are kids - well, Oliver Twist has kids, too, what is that supposed to mean?

Kent Haruf has that uncanny ability to not "paint with words," but to take black and white photos with words. I knew I was in for something when the first few pages has one of the 6 or 7 characters that populate the book leaning over a toilet with a string of spittle hanging from her mouth. Yuk! Who couldn't see that? Glad to say there weren't any similar yuk moments, but that's the level of detail with which Kent Haruf writes. One of Jack Kerouac's rules of prose was, "don't stop to think of words, stop to see the picture better." Kent Haruf's pictures are clear, line to line, page to page, etc., etc.

The story and its incidents are simple in the best ways. Nothing world shaking, but each character's world shakes at some point in the story, and that is the way of it. Our lives are our worlds, and we're not living them in a CIA conspiracy, or battling the Saxons, or, for the most of us, climbing Mt. Everest. Not to say I don't like doing those things between the pages of a book, but it was refreshing to come to a reality that was gripping without being epic. Haruf's lives are full of humor, warmth, grit, and decency. If there is one fault to this book it's that the "bad guys," don't show any depth. They're bad, period. Not murderously bad, but not nice, and without redeeming qualities. That's where I drop a star. A little more dimension to the villains was definitely called for.

But, read this book, it had me holding my breath for its unforced and beautiful prose, and for the affection I felt for the characters.

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