Over reading both Plainsong and Eventide, I think what I adore the most about Kent Haruf and his attitude to storytelling is his ability to leave you hanging on the end of a story without you really caring. By this I mean how he brings up many small plots within his overarching story and never quite puts the finish line in sight. But I don’t care about that. Normally I’d be raging and want to know what has happened to the characters I am fond of. But here, I know they are in good hands and that while I may never see the full outcome, I know that these treasured people will live on in Haruf’s mind.
And they are treasured to me. Guthrie, Ike, Bobby, the McPheron brothers, Rose, Victoria, they are like family to me. Haruf writes each of these fragile characters with such a subtle beauty. They have their faults, but who doesn’t? They are all human and live their lives as only they can. These two novels envelope you in that warm small town America vibe that feels comfortable and close. We see recurring cast members that are fully fleshed out even if all they did was appear for 30 pages. They pop up, say good morning and venture on. It is like meeting an old friend who you missed without really noticing.
Of course, I had my favourites. The McPheron brothers being at the top of the list. These two old (and slightly crotchety) men have lived together since their parents died. They run a cattle ranch just outside of the town of Holt, wherein everything takes place, and they have a warmth that everyone would want in their lives. Over the two books I became so enamoured with Harold and Raymond that each and every moment of their journey brought out an emotion. I cried with them and I laughed out loud at their old ways.
It is through the eloquent but abrupt language that Haruf captures your heart and soul. There are no overly worked sentence structures and never are the metaphors laid on too thickly. Each sentiment is staccato and each description flows like water. No words are wasted and no paragraph leaves the reader wondering as to the authors intentions. Why use fifty words when only ten will do? Why only describe the countryside briefly when there is so much to take in. Haruf balances the two wonderfully and uses plain language to burrow into your mind.
It seems harsh to compare these two amazing novels to television… And especially soap operas. However, I’m sure Kent Haruf won’t mind if I do so. The books have a familiarity that comes with long running TV shows. The cast has tremendous depth, the stories intertwine and create a beautiful tapestry of emotions. There are dramatic moments that can fill the reader with dread and there are heartwarming situations that create laughter from nowhere. It all feels like shrugging on that old jumper that is fraying at the cuffs but makes you feel ‘right’.
Over the few days of reading Plainsong and Eventide I devoured the writing with gusto and never once felt that I’d hit a stumble or roadblock. Haruf doesn’t necessarily break down the human condition or analyse every nuance. Regardless, what has been created are the opening books of a masterpiece series of storytelling. I know I will forever look back at the cast of these books with a fondness and will tell everyone I know to read and fall in love with them.
Published by Picador. These books were kindly sent for review by the publisher.
Both Plainsong and Eventide utterly deserve the following stars…