this issue: october 15, 1999
Books / Digital Culture:
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A page before the start of the actual text describes a Plainsong as " any simple and unadorned melody or air". This is a fitting description for this novel. The prose is simple, yet elegant. The characters are unassuming small town-folk. And the story is uncomplicated, yet touching.
It would be nice to call novel deceptively simple. But the truth is that this work is as simple as it seems on the surface. This is not a novel that has great power nor is it one that you will remember years later, or even weeks later.
The novel takes place in a small town on the plains of Colorado and tells two stories from that town. One revolves around a family where the mother suffers from debilitating depression. The story tracks how the young boys and their father cope without her. A second story follows a pregnant girl who is kicked out of her home and is taken in by two elderly ranchers.
The stories and characters ring true. Haruf has an incredible feel for the nuances in speech and behavior of the population of this region. But some of the main protagonists come across as just a little too plain. The old ranchers are quirky and likable, as are the two boys. But the father and the pregnant girl never inspire much feeling.
In addition, although the two stories do overlap in small ways, the two plots never really connect into an integrated whole. This is not a fatal flaw, but it is a slight disappointment.
Despite these weaknesses, this is over all a worthwhile story, moving gently and quietly, with results that are often moving and beautiful.
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