Sequel to Acclaimed "Plainsong" Is Even Better

Isthmus | June 10, 2004

By Kent Haruf (Knopf)

Sequels are dicey business. Particularly if your previous book was a commercial and critical success. Expectations run high; the shock and charm of the new is gone. Defying the odds, Eventide, Kent Haruf’s sequel to Plainsong (his 1999 National Book Award nominee), is actually better than its predecessor. It’s darker, structurally more elegant and emotionally honest without depending on melodrama. Grand, heroic gestures that sometimes felt a little too good to be true in Plainsong have given way to smaller acts of credible kindness. The lives on display here feel utterly true. It is a painful and beautiful novel.

Along with Haruf’s spare, measured prose, which is as essential and stark as the flat, Eastern Colorado plains where the book is set, what stuck with readers about Plainsong were a handful of characters so believable they seemed to walk off the page and move into your life. Most memorable were Harold and Raymond McPheron, a pair of crusty, heart-of-gold bachelor ranchers who took in the pregnant teen, Victoria Roubideaux, when no one else would. The McPheron brothers were such appealing characters that when the book ended you really hated to walk away from them. So, apparently, did Haruf. They’re back in Eventide at the hub of the action.

A few years have passed since Victoria had her baby. Now, as the novel opens, she is moving to Fort Collins to start college. As the old ranchers adjust to a silent, lonely house, Haruf gives us a passel of new characters who are equally hard to forget: Luther and Betty June Wallace, a poor, mentally impaired couple struggling to cope with the wages of poverty and raise their two children; Hoyt Raines, Betty’s mean, lawless uncle who moves into their trailer and unravels their already threadbare lives; Mary Wells, who’s sinking deeper into depression after her husband deserts her and their three young daughters; DJ Kephart, a born-old 11-year old raising himself and taking care of his sickly grandfather; and Rose Tyler, a longtime social worker who, despite a lifetime of seeing the worst of humans, has not given up on hope or romance.

Over the course of the novel, these characters collide and connect in unexpected, yet seemingly inevitable, sometimes heartbreaking ways. Yet, they’re amazingly resilient and, in the strength of that resiliency, inspiring. Not everyone in the book lives happily ever after, but the fact that they adjust, survive and are still trying to help each other is a quietly powerful and wholly satisfying message.

—Phil Davis


Isthmus is Madison, Wisconsin's alternative newspaper. Since 1976, Isthmus has built a foundation of fearless reporting, forthright opinion, excellent arts coverage, and innovative perspective. These efforts have been rewarded by numerous sources including the Milwaukee Press Club's statewide Excellence in...
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