what i'm reading: plainsong trilogy by kent haruf
These novels are set in the rural US west, in the fictional town of Holt, Colorado. Plainsong is a small, quiet, poignant story, about how some unrelated people come together to form a chosen family. Through various characters, especially boys and men, the author explores different visions of manhood and of parenting, different paths to being a good and decent person.
A pregnant teenage girl, two elderly brothers who are ranchers, a schoolteacher whose wife has left him, two young boys whose family is in crisis, some reckless teenagers and their thoughtless, self-absorbed parents. These characters and others are set against minimal, almost elemental descriptions of rural and small-town life on the high plains.
The book had me quite teary-eyed, but not from sadness. As in life, characters do not automatically reach a happy ending, but anyone searching for connection and redemption can find it - often an unexpected form - in a fellow human.
I originally read Plainsong when it was published in 1999, loved it, then lost track of the author. Through a library customer, I learned that it was the first of a trilogy. When the author died last year, I remembered that conversation and put holds on all three books.
Plainsong was as beautiful as I remembered. I continued with Eventide (2004) and Benediction (2013). Those were very good, and worth reading, but Plainsong stands alone as a truly wonderful book. These three books are not strictly a trilogy in terms of plot and events; they are set in the same town and there is some overlap of characters. You can read Plainsong on its own with no loss or loose strings.
Some months after Haruf's death, his Our Souls at Night was published to excellent reviews. I plan on reading that, too.