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Word Count: 891
Plainsong Nowhere is the theme of heroism and kindness more skillfully explored than in Kent Harufs novel Plainsong Here Haruf weaves multiple voices and story lines into a unified whole As the book moves forward the stark chapter headings spotlight the characters names one after another as if each character were stepping up to the microphone from a dark stage to give a speech before stepping back Not until the very last chapter whose title is the name of the town Holt will the camera pull back to allow the lights to go up and the reader to view all the characters at once By giving us their stories this way one by one and by refusing to go either back into the past for explanation or forward to the future for reassurance Haruf shows us heroism in its most amplified and yet paradoxical form through the daily good deeds of his characters In Plainsong it is the children elderly people and outcasts who expose for better or worse the morality of the community they depend on for help What one person sees as an embarrassment or an opportunity for easy exploitation another sees as a blessing in disguise With a dry unsentimental eye Haruf shows us the difference Ike and Bobby the two motherless young boys seeking to make sense of their lives find no help from the adults they come in contact with in town Many of their paper route customers delight in humiliating them for their ignorance But not Iva Stearns an old woman whose need for companionship and dignity is matched only by their need for the same At the same time their father a lonely burnt-out teacher named Guthrie begins to grapple with a teenage bully at school a pregnant teenager is locked out of her home and an old man falling under the spell of senility becomes increasingly violent While all these characters struggle for some sense of dignity
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