Wednesday, January 13, 2010


We welcomed two new ladies this month, Cindy and Kareen, and for the first time ever at Jenny's suggestion, started with introductions, something that was long overdue. Ironically, it seems that almost everyone has been a teacher at one point or another. Do all of us own cats too?

We loved this book, loved it from the book title play on words to the open ending, where the characters who have stayed true to their principles face a murky and unclear future. Principled principles?? As Madelon said, the writing was remarkable as much for what wasn't said, as for what was.

Considerable discussion took place around abandonment: Guthrie's preoccupation with his own difficulties, the withdrawal of Ike and Bobby's mother, Victoria's mother locking her out of the house and her life, and the orphaning of the McPheron's at an early age. We questioned if the Beckman's violent home was a form of abandonment of their son.

Linda said when she taught at the juvenile detention center, they often wondered what made some children survivors and others not. Certainly, Victoria was a survivor and wise beyond her years. Why her and not the Beckman boy? And much of the story was determined by the time in which is was placed and the small town locale.

So little is known about the characters outside of this six month period. We don't know what happened between Victoria and her mother earlier. We felt that Tom Guthrie was a good man, even though he had been vague as a father in this pastiche. Maggie was our favorite character, and we can only determine that Tom's daliance with the secretary was because he felt he didn't deserve Maggie, something he told himself in the mirror.

We were thrilled to have a story that flowed through so few characters. It read so easily, it seemed to be a simple book, which it certainly was not. We loved the McPherons and their taciturn manner of speach. I said I could see Robert Duvall playing one of them in a movie, because I had seen him in a similar role. That movie was Tender Mercies and it won the 1983 Oscar and he the Oscar for best actor - little aside there. The parallel lives of the McPherons and Ike and Bobby was deftly woven through the narrative, yet not overworked.

I hadn't checked my phone after I got to the library and had received an email from Leslie, explaining why she wouldn't be able to make it. Below are her notes - I thought you would enjoy hearing from her.

"I enjoyed reading Kent Haruf's Plainsong. I like how it took turns with the characters and then ends with the chapter entitled "Holt," the town, yet that chapter isn't about a small town. A small town is the sum of the people living there and so "Holt" brings all the main characters together and now a family of sorts, yet perhaps the best kind of family in this dysfunctional society.

Many of the scenes are really vivid, slices of life--so realistic we become flies on the wall, watching what's happening to the main characters. And there's some great dialogue, especially from the two McPheron brothers, Raymond and Harold. I love when Harold and Raymond squabble over Harold's comparing Victoria to a heifer and also when the creep in the convenience store gets his pack of gum and tells Victoria to not work too hard after he's scared the heck out of her with his crazy talk about killing himself, the dog, and one of the gals working at the convenience store.

Also, some could argue that everything seemed gift-wrapped and tidy at the end, yet it really isn't. Guthrie may get fired, and he has no idea what he'll do (except not farm); his sons, Bobby and Ike, have experienced a lot of trauma at [e.g., deaths (horse and Mrs. Stearns); the really scary kidnapping; the physical and emotional loss of their mother]; the McPheron brothers still will lose Victoria and her daughter at some point, so Victoria can go to college, although we think, even when that happens, she and the baby will be back to visit if not to stay; and Maggie's father will die. Life will go on in Holt."

What she said~

1 comment:

  1. Thanks, Sharon. Sounds like I missed a great meeting. It's a book that'll keep coming back to me for a while.

    Unlike most of y'all, I'm not a teacher (although I guess editing and directing are two types of teaching), but I am a cat lover. My babies are both strays: Flannery O'Connor, a 4-year-old female Siamese, and (P)earl Bailey, a 10-year-old male orange whom my farm-reared son said was a female, hence the "(P)" making Pearl an Earl.

    The love of my cat life, Maggie Mae, an orange-stripped, feral female, died two years ago at age 19 years and one month. Feral cats take a lot of patience, time, and attention, but once a feral cat is your buddy, there is not a more loyal creature on Earth. Maggie followed me everywhere around the house, and she was my "writing kitty" (i.e., she sat in a chair next to my computer whether I was writing for a couple hours or for an entire day). I think I'll always miss her.