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This title in other editions

Plainsong (Vintage Contemporaries)


Plainsong (Vintage Contemporaries) Cover

ISBN13: 9780375705854
ISBN10: 0375705856
Condition: Standard
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Reading Group Guide

1. Why might Kent Haruf have chosen Plainsong as the title for this novel? What meaning, or meanings, does the title have in relation to Haruf's story and characters?

2. How does the small town of Holt figure as a character in each novel? How are the characters in each of the novels completely believable and different? How does Haruf repeat some character traits in his novels and to what effect? How do the characters and the image of the town change from book to book?

3. Few hints are given in the novel about what life might have been like for the Guthrie family before Ella left. What do you imagine that life to have been like? What sort of a marriage did Tom and Ella have, and what made it go wrong? What might account for Ella's nearly total withdrawal even from the children she seems to love?

4. How do the three teenagers having sex in the abandoned house inform and affect Ike and Bobby? What does this sight tell them about sex? About love? About the relationships and power struggle between men and women?

5. Do you believe there are marked differences between Raymond and Harold McPheron? If so, what are they?

6. Why do you think the McPheron brothers have chosen to spend their lives together rather than start families of their own? Are they lonely or unhappy before Victoria's arrival, or do they feel sufficient in themselves? What does Maggie mean when she tells them, "This is your chance" [p. 110]?

7. What parallels can you draw between the McPheron brothers and the young Guthrie boys? Why is the relationship so close in each case? What sort of a future do you see for the Guthrie boys? Do you think they will marry and have families?

8. The McPheron brothers think they know nothing about young girls. Is that the case? Has their solitary life close to the earth handicapped them so far as human relations go, or has it, in fact, provided them with hidden advantages?

9. What examples of parents abandoning children--either by desertion, emotional withdrawal, or death--can be found in this novel? What do these incidents have in common? How does abandonment affect children, and how does it shape their lives and relationships?

10. It is usually women who are portrayed as nurturers, but in this novel, men--Tom Guthrie and the McPheron brothers--provide shelter and comfort. How do men differ from women in this respect? What do these men offer that a woman might not be able to?

11. "These are crazy times," Maggie Jones says. "I sometimes believe these must be the craziest times ever" [p. 124]. What does she mean by this? In what way are our times "crazier" than earlier eras? How does such "craziness" affect the lives of young people such as Victoria, Ike, and Bobby?

12. What motives and feelings might have driven Tom to sleep with Judy when it was really Maggie he was interested in? Why might Maggie have seemed momentarily frightening or intimidating to him?

13. Why do the Guthrie boys befriend Iva Stearns? What are they looking for in this tentative friendship? Do they find what they are seeking?

14. Why do the Guthrie boys go to the McPheron brothers after Iva's death rather than to someone closer to home, like their father or Maggie? Is there any indication that they connect Iva's death with their mother's abandonment? Why do they place their mother's bracelet on the train tracks, then bury it?

15. The inhabitants of Holt and its surroundings are extremely laconic: they speak only sparingly, as though they mistrust words. What might cause this? In what way does it affect the characters' relationships with one another?

16. How would you describe Holt, Colorado? What are its limitations, its disadvantages, and what are its strengths? In what ways is it typical of any American small town, and in what ways is it different? What help does it provide for people who need healing, like the characters in this book?

17. Plainsong depicts some unusual "family" groups. How might Kent Haruf define family?

18. For general discussion of Kent Haruf's works

1. How does Kent Haruf's writing style change from his first novel to his last, the National Book Award finalist Plainsong? What is the effect of Haruf's style in each and use of language on the reader?

2. How does the small town of Holt figure as a character in each novel? How are the characters in each of the novels completely believable and different? How does Haruf repeat some character traits in his novels and to what effect? How do the characters and the image of the town change from book to book?

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Average customer rating based on 3 comments:

les imprest, September 4, 2010 (view all comments by les imprest)
I can see why the Boston Globe, NYT, LA Times, et al gave this book such glowing reviews. As an all out insult towards "fly over" America, a series of highlights starring victimhood and ugly white people, angry white men, and a concerted effort at focussing on sex, this boring tome drones on from tragedy to minor tragedy. If Haruth ever lived in small town America, he must have had a terrible childhood, filled with anger and repressed sex. I'm glad I missed it, and wished I'd missed his Freudian nightmare of a book.
His near hero was (of course) a put-upon school teacher, everyone else is from Walmart parking lot lore, and an odd pair of elderly brothers (WASP simpletons). The sniggering from the elite who proclaim "Yes, that's America!" can be heard on most every campus, from most any professor.
Read a classic, this isn't one of them.
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bentguy1, January 1, 2010 (view all comments by bentguy1)
A work that hits on all cylinders: setting, characterization, plot development, and ending. But much more than that, it touches on the variant nature of humanity, the falls from grace, the small triumphs and understandings and the murkiness of the heart. Subtle, and closely observed—it's great!
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(4 of 9 readers found this comment helpful)
Jeane, April 2, 2008 (view all comments by Jeane)
This is a quietly elegant portrait of a farming community in Holt, Colorado. It focuses on half a dozen characters: a high school history teacher whose depressed wife leaves him to raise two young boys alone, a shy teenage girl who becomes pregnant and decides to run away from home, and two crusty bachelor brothers who run a farm together. Another teacher in the same school becomes the catylist for all these characters' solitary lives to become intertwined and connected. Plainsong is full of guilt and pain, quiet passion and deeply felt compassion. It is a wonderful portrayal of how people's lives touch one another- for good more than ill.
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Product Details

Haruf, Kent
Vintage Books USA
New York :
City and town life
Family saga
Domestic fiction
Literature-A to Z
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Vintage Contemporaries (Paperback)
Series Volume:
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
8.00x5.38x.70 in. .54 lbs.

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Related Subjects

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Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z
History and Social Science » American Studies » Popular Culture

Plainsong (Vintage Contemporaries) Used Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
$8.50 In Stock
Product details 320 pages Vintage Books USA - English 9780375705854 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

Just before Plainsong really hit big, I interviewed Kent Haruf for a now-defunct magazine called Boswell; and after speaking to Mr. Haruf for an hour, caught a glimpse of the modest spirit behind this wise novel. The story is written with deep humility, a plain and simple song, as the title suggests ? though deceptively so. I grew up in a small farming town, and can honestly say I have known every one of the characters in Plainsong, who, though they live in more simple surroundings, lead lives as complex as any other. Like Alistair Macleod, Kent Haruf has got the "decent writing" thing down, and his characters are delightful.

"Review" by , "A novel so foursquare, so delicate and has the power to exalt the reader."
"Review" by , "Resonant and meaningful....A song of praise in honor of the lives it chronicles [and] a story about people's ability to adapt and redeem themselves, to heal the wounds of isolation by moving, gropingly and imperfectly, toward community."
"Review" by , "A compelling and compassionate novel....[With] his sheer assurance as a storyteller, [Mr. Haruf] has conjured up an entire community, and ineluctably immersed the reader in its dramas."
"Review" by , "A work as flawlessly unified as a short story by Poe or Chekhov."
"Review" by , "Haunting, virtuosic, inimitable."
"Review" by , "If the novelist invents a world, then Mr. Haruf has shaped a place of enormous goodness....The story itself — spare, unsentimental, rooted in action — honors the values of the community it describes."
"Synopsis" by , From the unsettled lives of three people emerges a vision of life, and of the town and landscape that bind them together. Utterly true to the rhythms and patterns of life, Plainsong is a heartfelt story of family and romance, tribulation, and tenacity. "A novel so foursquare, so delicate and lovely, that it has the power to exalt the reader." — Verlyn Klinkenborg, the New York Times Book Review
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