Plainsong, by Kent Haruf

A “plainsong” is a simple, unadorned melody, a Christian worship song without instruments, sung in unity. And it’s the fitting title of Kent Haruf’s lyrical novel about mythical Holt, Colorado, its flawed citizens and the angels that help save those most in need, especially the children.

Plainsong, the book, is truly a plainsong, unadorned and melodic. It is a gentle, calm story of human failings and redemption that matches its setting: the quiet plains of windswept northeastern Colorado. The cast of characters includes Maggie Jones, the catalyst who connects lost souls with their saviors; Tom Guthrie and his sons Ike and Bobby, whose mother is not up to the challenge of day-to-day parenting and moves to Denver, leaving the boys to find mothering where they can; the McPheron brothers, bachelor farmers who fill a hole in their lives by informally adopting Victoria Roubideaux, a pregnant teenage whose mother locks her out of the house; and a troublemaking high school student and his obnoxious parents.

At times, I felt like hugging this book because of the goodness of some of its characters, its authenticity and subtle humor.

Haruf is from my hometown of Pueblo, Colorado. Every year when we drive to our Colorado cabin, we pass Yuma, Colorado, which is the model for Holt. And Haruf ended up building a home in Salida, Colorado, one of my favorite places. So this novel had special connections for me. Sharelle Moranville has written about her admiration for Haruf. But we all enjoyed the book and look forward to reading more by Haruf, especially Eventide, which follows the characters five years later.

In a final interview just days before he died in November, 2014, Haruf said, “I want to think that I have written as close to the bone as I could.” He did indeed.

— Patricia Prijatel

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