by Kent Haruf
"They came up from the horse barn in the slanted light of early morning. The McPheron brothers, Harold and Raymond. Old men approaching an old house at the end of summer. They came on across the gravel drive past the pickup and the car parked at the hogwire fencing and came one after the other through the wire gate At the porch they scraped their boots on the saw blade sunken in the dirt, the ground packed and shiny around it from long use and mixed with barnlot manure, and walked up the plank steps onto the screened porch and entered the kitchen where the nineteen-year-old girl Victoria Robideaux sat at the pinewood table feeding oatmeal to he little daughter."
Earlier this year I read Kent Haruf's novel, Plainsong, about the people living in and near the small town of Holt, Colorado. This novel continues that story. Some of the characters from the previous novel are joined by others to form another heart-warming story about life in this small western town.
Two characters in particular, the McPheron brothers, are at the center of the story. In the previous novel they had befriended a young unmarried woman and her child who needed a home. As the story continues she is starting college and the brothers are once again alone with themselves. While they try to learn to live without Victoria their saga contains heartbreak and, for one of them, a chance to connect with a woman late, but not too late in a life that had come near to a new depth of loneliness. There is a young boy stoically caring for his grandfather while another couple try,but do not succeed to protect their children from a violent relative. The story with its many small town characters is not only about loneliness and distress, but also about people helping each other. There are moments when danger and evil touches some lives but it is depicted in a way that seems a natural part of the human condition.
Haruf writes about people who share a stoic vision of life--and of the community and landscape that brings them together. Through his spare prose on every page these lives emerge with a beauty and endurance that is impressive. The title of the novel is from a familiar church hymn; one that I remember singing in my youth. The short chapters might be compared to the stanzas of a hymn as the story unfolds with a a sort of musical rhythm. Ultimately, Eventide is a story of the abandonment, grief, and sorrow that bind these people together. It is also a story of the kindness, hope, and dignity that redeem their lives.
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