June 12, 2010


This is  the June pick for the book club I'm in.

I've heard this book has been made into a TV movie, but I have no desire to see it.  In my mind's eye it was long, meandering and gorgeously shot feature film either directed by Badlands era Terrence Malik or The Last Picture Show era Peter Bogdonovich.

It concerns a man and his two sons whose wife/mother has left them; a pregnant teenage girl kicked out by her own mother; and two old crotchety but kind confirmed bachelor brothers running a farm.  These folks are all brought together by a young teacher who knows them all and gently pushes them together into kind of an extended family of damaged, but strong people doing the best they can to help each other out.

It's written in a Hemingway meets Fred Chappell style that really picks up when the McPheron brothers show up about sixty or so pages in.  They are strong, sincere, and unintentionally hilarious.  They reminded me of Matthew Cuthbert in the Anne of Green Gables book but with a brother like himself and no Marilla to balance him out.

It's pain spoken, but poetic.  An example, from when the two young boys are waiting for a train to come along and run over some coins and jewelry they've laid on the tracks:

There was a grasshopper on the weeds, watching them, chewing its mouth.  Ike threw a piece of dirt at it and it hopped onto the track.  The train came on from a distance, whistling sudden and long at a mile crossing.  They waited.  The coins and her bracelet were out on the track.  After a time they could see the train, dark-looming in the haze.  It came on and got louder, bigger, and appeared as terrific as if it were dreamed, shaking the ground, the grasshopper still watching the two boys, and then the train was on them.

If you like books like Cold Mountain, this is definitely for you.  And if you do like this, you might also enjoy the similar, but more playful style of Fred Chappell (if you can dig his flights of fancy and magic realism the way I do).

Plainsong by Kent Haruf

Books by Fred Chappell