Book review: Plainsong




301 pages

Published by Vintage in 2000


This book counts for the following Reading Challenges:

New Authors 2013 Colorado Book Month

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50 states – #38: Colorado



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I announced that I would read the books for my American States challenge following their statehood state, but when I discovered March was Colorado Month, I knew time for state #38 had come.

I had heard about Plainsong some time ago, so again, good time to launch at my TBR. I’m so glad I discovered Kent Haruf. I enjoy very much his style, adapted to some of his characters, with sometimes very short sentences, with poor grammar, reflecting some daily conversation style. His description of the rural world and the Colorado landscape are amazing. I really could feel I was there, a member of the small community of Holt.

The adult characters, as well as the teens and kids, have a real depth to them. I enjoyed how the story progressively binds all the characters together, starting from apparently disconnected vignettes.

In The Lost Continent, Bill Bryson draws a supposedly humorist portrait of small towns in America. I did not like his tone of voice in that book. I found it rather disparaging. On the other side of the scale, I found Plainsong to be a real hymn to a small town in Colorado, with its people finding eventually healing thanks to connection with their own community and their natural environment, sometimes thanks to characters you might judge as backwards and stuck in time.

I might compare the style of this book to novels by Wendell Berry, but Haruf is even better at dialogues, I think.

If life is getting to hectic, you might want to take this book to slow down and help you reconsider what’s really important in life.


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—is pregnant, alone herself, with nowhere to go. And out in the country, two brothers, elderly bachelors, work the family homestead, the only world they’ve ever known.

From these unsettled lives emerges a vision of life, and of the town and landscape that bind them together—their fates somehow overcoming the powerful circumstances of place and station, their confusion, curiosity, dignity and humor intact and resonant. As the milieu widens to embrace fully four generations, Kent Haruf displays an emotional and aesthetic authority to rival the past masters of a classic American tradition.

Utterly true to the rhythms and patterns of life, Plainsong is a novel to care about, believe in, and learn from. [Goodreads]


Kent Haruf

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 hospital in Colorado, a hospital in Arizona, a library in Iowa, an alternative high school in Wisconsin, and universities in Nebraska and Illinois.

Haruf is the author of Plainsong, which received the Mountains and Plains Booksellers Award, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, the Maria Thomas Award in Fiction, and The New Yorker Book Award. Plainsong was also a finalist for the 1999 National Book Award. His novel, The Tie That Binds, received a Whiting Foundation Award and a special citation from the Pen/Hemingway Foundation. In 2006, Haruf was awarded the Dos Passos Prize for Literature.

All of his novels are set in the fictional town of Holt, Colorado. Holt is loosely based on Yuma, Colorado, an early residence of Haruf in the 1980s.

Haruf currently lives with his wife, Cathy, in Salida, Colorado, with their three daughters.


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18 thoughts on “Book review: Plainsong

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