For a second time the residents of Holt, Colorado, have been brought to life by the immense talents of author Kent Haruf. Five years ago, Haruf first introduced the denizens of this rural western community to the world. That novel, PLAINSONG, became an award-winning novel, a finalist for the National Book Award, and recently a "Hallmark Hall of Fame" television movie. EVENTIDE is Haruf's return visit to Holt, an opportunity for the reader to follow the lives of many of the characters first introduced in PLAINSONG and to meet other residents of the community as well.
The primary focus of EVENTIDE is on the lives of a unique family unit that found its creation in the pages of PLAINSONG. Her biological family abandoned Victoria Roubideaux when the high school student became pregnant. Through the efforts of one of her teachers, Maggie Jones, Victoria moves to the farm of Harold and Raymond McPheron, bachelor brothers residing on their cattle ranch 17 miles outside of Holt. The development of the relationship between Victoria and the McPherons was a major theme of the PLAINSONG saga.
As EVENTIDE opens, Victoria and her two-year-old daughter Katie, having lived on the McPheron farm since birth, are preparing to face a new challenge. Mother and daughter will be moving to Fort Collins and Victoria will be a freshman in college. The brothers, who two years ago could never contemplate life with a woman and child, must now face the absence of what has become their family. It will be a difficult test.
Shortly after Victoria departs, tragedy visits the McPheron farm. A serious accident kills Harold and severely injures Raymond. In simple and unadorned language Haruf portrays Raymond's struggle to begin a new life. Raymond is a noble and old-fashioned man seeking to survive in a modern and complex society that exists even in rural Colorado. In one particularly touching moment, Raymond, now courting, purchases a car battery for his female friend. In the hands of Kent Haruf, the incident is beautifully portrayed.
Victoria and the McPherons are the main characters of EVENTIDE but certainly not its only characters. Haruf shows a remarkable talent in viewing the world through the eyes of children. IN PLAINSONG it was the sons of Tom Guthrie. In EVENTIDE it is eleven-year old DJ Kephart, an orphan who is taking care of his grandfather. Viewing the world through the eyes of children reminds us all of the fragile nature of hopes and dreams. Often, it can be a bleak world.
Other residents of Holt also appear. Luther and Betty Wallace and their children are kept together as a family unit by social worker Rose Tyler. The lives of many citizens of Holt intertwine, and Haruf keeps the story moving towards a conclusion that, while not complete, brings closure to some of the characters. Perhaps Haruf is contemplating a Holt, Colorado trilogy of novels.
There is an elegant simplicity and beauty in the writing of Kent Haruf. When he describes a subzero Colorado winter evening, the reader reaches for a sweater. When his characters are happy, the reader rejoices; when they face misfortune, the reader shares their angst. Few writers can evoke that response in a novel. EVENTIDE is a worthy successor to the award-winning PLAINSONG. If you have not done so, read PLAINSONG first. More than the words of any review, it will inspire you to read EVENTIDE.
Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman on January 21, 2011