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Eventide Hardcover – May 4, 2004
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"Warlight" by Michael Ondaatje
A dramatic coming-of-age story set in the decade after World War II, "Warlight" is the mesmerizing new novel from the best-selling author of "The English Patient." Pre-order today
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Kent Haruf, author of Plainsong, one of the most beloved novels in recent years, has wisely continued the franchise in Eventide, another foray into the prairie town of Holt, Colorado. We meet some of the same people--the McPheron brothers, Tom Guthrie and Maggie Jones, Victoria and her daughter Katie, and are introduced to new ones. Once again, the quirky bachelors Harold and Raymond McPheron, short on conversation and long on heart, form the sweet center of the book. The constants here are the brothers, the landscape--by turns hostile, demanding and renewing--and a few of the locals, whom we meet in varying degrees of their travails and redemption.
Victoria, the young pregnant woman the brothers took in in Plainsong, has gone off to college at Fort Collins, leaving the brothers standing at the kitchen counter, "drinking coffee and talking about how Victoria Roubideaux was doing a hundred and twenty-five miles away from home ... while they themselves were living as usual in the country in Holt County ... with so much less to account for now that she was gone, and a wind rising up and starting to whine outside the house." Much as Seinfeld was called the TV show about nothing, Haruf's books are so low-key and straightforward that a careless reader might miss the fact that they are about everything that life has to offer: love, sorrow, malice, understanding, and the connections that make and keep us human, to name a few.
DJ is an 11-year-old living alone with his grandfather, when he befriends two young girls whose father left for Alaska and decided not to return. Their mother is mired in grief and the three children, abandoned by the adults in their lives, find refuge in an old shed they make habitable. "So for a while the two sisters and the boy lay on the floor under the blankets, reading books in the dim candlelight, with the sun falling down outside in the alley, the three of them talking a little softly, drinking coffee from a thermos, and what was happening in the houses theyd come from, seemed, for that short time, of little importance." One of Haruf's particular gifts is in showing us people who give and take solace wherever it may be found.
An unfortunate disabled couple, parents of two young children, are trying to make their way in a world they cannot fathom. They are assisted by Rose Tyler, their caseworker, who is a friend of Maggie Jones. aggie, who drew Tom Guthrie out of his depression in Plainsong, is once again a catalyst for change when she introduces Rose to Raymond. There is no doubt more to come, as life in Holt, Colorado, continues to evolve and Kent Haruf keeps us informed. --Valerie Ryan
From Publishers Weekly
Haruf's follow-up to the critically acclaimed and bestselling Plainsong is as lovely and accomplished as its predecessor. The aging bachelor McPheron brothers and their beloved charges, Victoria and her daughter, Katie, return (though Victoria quickly heads off to college), and Haruf introduces new folks-a disabled couple and their children, an old man and the grandson who lives with him-in this moving exploration of smalltown lives in rural Holt, Colo. Ranchers Raymond and Harold McPheron have spent their whole lives running land that has been in their family for many generations, so when Harold is killed by an enraged bull, worn-out Raymond faces a void unlike any he has ever known. His subsequent first-ever attempts at courtship and romance are almost heartbreaking in their innocence, but after some missteps, he finds unexpected happiness with kind Rose Tyler. Rose is the caseworker for a poor couple struggling so dimly and futilely to better their lives that it becomes painful to witness. Children play crucial roles in the novel's tapestry of rural life, and they are not spared life's trials. But Haruf's characters, such as 11-year-old orphan DJ Kephart, who cares for his retired railroad worker grandfather, and Mary Wells, whose husband abandons her with two young girls, maintain an elemental dignity no matter how buffeted by adversity. And while there is much sadness and hardship in this portrait of a community, Haruf's sympathy for his characters, no matter how flawed they are, make this an uncommonly rich novel.
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When Eventide picks up the story she is ready to move to Ft Collins for college. She will leave them more lonely than they were when she came into their lives: Raymond tells her "'We're going to miss you too, he said. We'll be about like old played-out workhorses once you're gone. Standing around lonesome, always looking over the fence.'" [p 4] Later Raymond and Victoria are talking on the phone when Victoria is feeling a little homesick. Raymond tells her how much his brother misses Victoria and her daughter "and as he went on in this vein it was clear to the girl that he was talking as much about himself as he was his brother and she felt so moved by this knowledge she was afraid she was going to cry." [p 43] I admit I teared up at this.
Haruf knows ranching; his set pieces are clear and dramatic. I love the chapter about the cattle auction with the brothers bringing their cattle in for sale and then sitting through all the auction waiting to see how well they will come out. In another scene they are separating the cows from their calves. It's like we are there. Later, Tom Guthrie and his sons help out at the ranch and once the cattle are separated, one of the sons notes how the cows and calves, separated by a fence: "They make an awful amount of noise, Ike said. They don't seem to like it much." [p 153] The father responded "they never do like it, he said. I can't imagine anything or anybody that would like it. But every living thing in this world gets weaned eventually." [p 153] This theme of loneliness reaches every part of the story; even cows and calves end up alone.
Raymond and Harold were the best part of the excellent Plainsong; they get a thorough treatment in this book. Sometimes in fiction you have various characters who all sound the same - not here. They have a collective distinctive voice (if that makes sense) sounding nothing like the other characters in the book. All the characters are distinct.
Similar to Plainsong we follow different families in snapshot fashion as they work their ways through problems. It opens with two ineffective parents trying to manage life while being beset and overmatched by their relative Hoyt. There is also DJ a middle school student taking care of his grandfather; and the neighbor girl he bonds with. I can't say more without revealing too much.
The book was a bit slow the first few pages as we are dropped into these lives with little in the way of introduction. But once Haruf gets out on the ranch with the McPheron brothers I was hooked. I read all but the first 30 pages in one day - I sat in my chair and read; took a break for lunch, then read some ore; later tore myself away to swim some laps but came right back to read more; then we had to take a break to have dinner with friends. Finally I got back home and read until I finished about midnight.
Without being extensively plot driven, this is an exquisite book with realistic characters dealing with what life doles out. I love this book; it takes me back to Terms of Endearment which I read in the early 1980s. I count that novel as one of the best/favorite books I've ever read; Eventide matches it. Come for the McPheron brothers and stay for the whole story.
Karuf surveys his characters with God-like eyes. All are equally important, whether they are major or minor characters. His distance is eternal but there is room for love and hope no matter how far they have moved. In spite of the detachment, there is room for love.
His writing style adds to this distance. The conversation had no quotation marks, yet it is very easy to tell who is speaking. His sentences are short and every word seems perfect. There is nothing extra, nothing that can be trimmed. There is nothing superfluous.
Each book is a little gem of writing.
The landscapes of personalities, behavior and lifestyles are as varied as the backdrop of this pastoral countryside...Holt, Colorado.
We become involved with the lives of aging ranchers Raymond and Harold McPheron and their live in young lady Victoria with her daughter; welfare recipients Luther and Betty Wallace with their son and daughter along with the mean, malicious Uncle Hoyt; Rose with the Social Services; Mary Wells and two daughters; DJ who lives with grandpa; and a host of other players pertinent to the story.
The plot is so relevant to past, present and future lives of our populace.
The ending is not really full of surprises...just a casual, heartfelt closing...and the wind still blows, the sun still sets at eventide.
I was particularly impressed by the author's adaptation of language to the characters. Excellent writing.
The characters were believable and vividly portrayed.
I look forward to reading the third book in the trilogy.