Like its title, Kent Haruf’s prose seems simple at first glance, but has the elegance of the many-voice harmonies. The story is slow to start, but it put me in mind of the crosstitch I love to do. First I must chose my canvas or material, then select a pattern, colors, needles. The first stitch only looks like a small cross, but one added to another and another ends up forming a beautiful picture.
This is about the interaction of seven people (a father and his two pre-teen sons, two old bachelor brothers, a pregnant sixteen-year-old and the female teacher who takes her in), how they bear, see, realize life. It’s about change and comprehension, about redemption and getting to know your place in the world.
Haruf gives us a glimpse of western farming life in a small town south of Denver. To an easterner like me, the setting is more exotic than Europe or South America. We understand that the west is more than just a place, but values, a deep-rooted culture, a way of life. Haruf brilliantly describes it without making it obvious: it threads through the lives of the seven people in the story.
Coincidentally, Kent Haruf was a great influence on Mark Spragg (The Fruit of Stone) and I now understand why. Both authors have the harmony of words down to a refined art.
Plainsong may be uncaccompanied music, but it’s beautiful and resonant.