Publishing Info: Vintage Contemporaries, 1999
Number of Pages: 301
Book Category: Fiction
- Tom Guthrie—a teacher at the local high school whose wife has become distant and unreachable
- Ike and Bobby—Guthrie’s two sons, who are confused by their mother’s distance and looking for a way to recapture her love and attention
- Victoria Roubideaux—a high school girl who finds herself pregnant and cast out of her home by her mother
- The McPheron Brothers—two older bachelor brothers who live on a farm outside of Holt and keep mostly to themselves.
- Maggie Jones—a single woman who teaches with Guthrie and cares for her elderly father and serves as the glue that begins to bind these individuals together.
Each of these characters alone has a voice that is aching to be heard and understood. And as they move ever closer together to form a type of family of their own, their voices and lives begin to intertwine and harmonize together in a way that is true, touching and beautiful.
The unisonous vocal music used in the Christian church from the earliest times; any simple and unadorned melody or air (e.g., Gregorian chant is type of plainsong).
I didn’t fully appreciate the meaning of the title until the end of the book. But upon finishing the book, the title just made so much sense and was so fitting. In the book, each of the character’s individual lives comes together to become part of a bigger whole—with each voice complementing and harmonizing with the other voices. At its heart, this book is about seeing a new community being formed from lives that were previously lived separately and parallel.
The book is both simple and subtle. It doesn’t hit you over the head with things. Rather, it lets you experience the lives of the characters through simple narration and dialogue. Even the dialogue is unadorned with quotation marks (and sometimes attribution). I could see that some readers might find this book a bit slow-paced or even frustrating. But if you stick with it until the end, you’ll appreciate the author’s skill in giving you much more that you thought you were getting at first glance.
Frankly, I was surprised at how satisfied I was by the end of the book. I struggled to get into the story for a little bit and found the shifting viewpoints a bit off-putting at first. It was almost like drifting from character to character like a ghost—getting a little bit here, leaving for awhile, and then coming back and getting a little more. Once you adapt to the rhythm of the book, though, it turns into a rich and rewarding read.
And for those of you who care about such things, Plainsong was a finalist for the National Book Award.
Why and Where I Got The Book
This was my P book for the A to Z Challenge. I got the book via Paperback Swap.