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Archive for Sunday, July 11, 2004

Review: Kent Haruf’s ‘Eventide’ sings of life in small-town America

July 11, 2004

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Kent Haruf's "Plainsong" won over critics and average readers alike with its sparse prose and bittersweet story line.

A lover of all things rural, Haruf's writing is deceptively simple, concentrating on the ups and downs of life in the country. Haruf, a native of the Colorado plains, is intimately familiar with the types of people he portrays in his novels.

"Eventide" takes up two years after "Plainsong" left off in Holt, Colo. The McPheron brothers, Harold and Raymond, have formed a paternal bond with Victoria Roubideaux and her daughter Katie, and the group is now dealing with the mother/daughter departure to college. Things are difficult for the men, who only recently welcomed the girls into their lives. To make matters worse, tragedy hits the brothers, and Raymond is faced with being alone for the first time in his life.

Haruf has widened his lens a bit in this latest work. Readers unfamiliar with "Plainsong" need not be hesitant about picking up its sequel for fear they will be missing something. "Eventide" introduces a new host of characters and situations equally as compelling as their precursors.

Among these are Betty and Luther, who live in a run-down trailer home and struggle to be good parents to their three children. Mary Wells is also a struggling parent, torn between caring for her daughters and mending her own broken heart after her husband leaves her.

In many ways, Haruf's characters are a throwback to an earlier generation of entertainment. There are good guys and bad, and it's always evident who is who. This style of storytelling was abandoned by most modern authors, but with Haruf it is refreshing.

However, Haruf is quick to remind readers that rural life is far from easy. There is plenty of physical and emotional pain to be felt on the ranch.

Haruf, more than almost any writer today, has mastered descriptions of raw emotion. His heartbreaking scenes are not grandiose, elaborate scenarios, but are based naturally in daily life.

Haruf's genius is in presenting simple characters in simple situations to display just how complex real life is. His characters speak often about the weather, they fry hamburger for supper and get up at 5:30 in the morning to milk cows.

These basic subjects are accompanied by simple text. Haruf writes in the vernacular, whittling short sentences and little punctuation until they are absolutely perfect.

His characters often are not concerned with matters of academic intelligence, but Haruf makes sure not to be condescending toward them. Instead, he writes of their heroic everyday deeds. In this way, Haruf's subject matter is a tribute to rural America. His voice fills a much-needed void in American literature.

Thankfully, with "Eventide" Haruf leaves room for more novels based on Holt by leaving several plots unfinished. Haruf has never said his intention was to make a series, but sky-high sales of "Plainsong" and critical acclaim of "Eventide" show that he has certainly found his niche.

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