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Islington Branch Book Club - Past Titles: "Plainsong" by Kent Haruf

Take a look through previous titles we've discussed at our Islington Branch Book Club

"Plainsong" by Kent Haruf

  1. Community and Isolation:

    • How does the community of Holt, Colorado, function as a character in the novel? How does Haruf depict the interconnectedness of its residents?
    • Explore instances of isolation or loneliness experienced by characters such as Victoria Roubideaux, Tom Guthrie, or Maggie Jones. How do they cope with their loneliness, and how does the community respond to them?
  2. Family Dynamics:

    • Discuss the various family structures depicted in the novel, such as the Guthrie family, the McPheron brothers, or the Roubideaux family. How do these different family dynamics contribute to the overall narrative?
    • How do the characters navigate issues of loss, grief, and healing within their families?
  3. Gender Roles and Expectations:

    • Analyze the portrayal of gender roles in "Plainsong." How do characters like Victoria challenge traditional gender expectations, and how do other characters react to this?
    • Consider the role of Maggie Jones as a teacher and caregiver. How does her character subvert or conform to traditional gender norms?
  4. Resilience and Redemption:

    • Discuss the themes of resilience and redemption as they relate to characters like Victoria, Tom Guthrie, or the McPheron brothers. How do these characters overcome adversity, and what do their journeys teach us about human resilience?
    • Explore how the act of caring for others, as seen through various characters in the novel, serves as a pathway to redemption and personal growth.
  5. Nature and Setting:

    • How does the setting of the Colorado plains influence the events and characters in the novel? Discuss the ways in which the landscape mirrors the emotional landscapes of the characters.
    • Analyze the significance of the changing seasons and natural elements (e.g., storms, snow) in the narrative. How do these elements contribute to the mood and themes of the story?
  6. Communication and Connection:

    • Consider the importance of communication and connection in the novel, particularly in the relationships between characters. How do characters communicate with each other, both verbally and non-verbally?
    • Explore how acts of kindness, understanding, and empathy facilitate meaningful connections between characters in the midst of personal struggles and challenges.
  7. Closure and Open-Endedness:

    • The novel ends with a sense of open-endedness for many of the characters. Discuss your interpretation of the ending and what it suggests about the characters' futures.
    • Reflect on the significance of the title, "Plainsong," in relation to the themes and events of the novel. How does it encapsulate the essence of the story?

Kent Haruf (February 24, 1943 – November 30, 2014) was an American novelist whose works often focused on small-town life and the human condition, characterized by their spare prose, empathy, and vivid portrayal of characters. Born in Pueblo, Colorado, Haruf spent much of his life in the American West, an influence that would deeply shape his writing.

After graduating from high school, Haruf attended Nebraska Wesleyan University, where he studied literature and creative writing. He later earned a Master of Fine Arts degree from the Iowa Writers' Workshop at the University of Iowa.

Haruf began his writing career as a young adult author, publishing his first novel, "The Tie That Binds," in 1984. The novel received critical acclaim and established Haruf's reputation as a talented writer. However, it was his subsequent novels that garnered widespread recognition and acclaim.

In 1999, Haruf published "Plainsong," which became his breakout novel and a bestseller. Set in the fictional town of Holt, Colorado, "Plainsong" tells the story of various characters struggling with loneliness, loss, and redemption. The novel received numerous awards, including the Mountains & Plains Booksellers Award and the Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Award.

Haruf continued to explore similar themes in his subsequent novels, including "Eventide" (2004) and "Benediction" (2013), both of which are set in Holt and feature interconnected characters grappling with the complexities of life in a small town.

Throughout his career, Haruf was known for his sparse and lyrical prose, which captured the rhythms of everyday speech and the vast landscapes of the American West. His writing was often compared to that of other acclaimed authors such as Cormac McCarthy and Marilynne Robinson.

In addition to his novels, Haruf also wrote essays and short stories, which were published in various literary magazines and anthologies. He was a recipient of numerous awards and honors, including a Whiting Foundation Writers' Award and a Guggenheim Fellowship.

Kent Haruf passed away on November 30, 2014, at the age of 71, leaving behind a legacy of powerful storytelling and a profound exploration of the human experience in the American West. His works continue to be celebrated for their depth, compassion, and timeless relevance.


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