Eventide by Kent Haruf

In Eventide, the second book in the Plainsong trilogy, we meet some of the same characters and a few more from the community of Holt, Colarado. There are again the quiet observations of the lives of people in this town, seeing them from the inside, the different challenges they each face and how they cope (or not) with them.

There’s that trademark humour that creates a number of laugh out loud moments, for which we are grateful. Because some of it is sad, realistic and may bring tears.

There’s a small boy named DJ who lives with his elderly grandfather Walter Kephart, DJ makes supper for his grandfather every evening and befriends two girls who live next door, in particular Dena. He cleans the yard and works on the vege garden for their mother Mary Wells. Their father is working in Alaska and returns rarely. And then not at all.

We again meet the McPheron brothers Raymond and Harold and the girl Victoria who has been living with them since she became pregnant. Now she has a little girl Katie and is about to move into an apartment and resume college studies.

It is a challenging transition for all of them, as they have become used to each other and the brothers have become much more perceptive about themselves and their “like a daughter” Victoria. She calls one night, for no particular reason and they discuss afterwards the things she didn’t say.

The way she sounded. The way her voice was.
No, it wasn’t money that made her voice sound that way. It was the rest of it too.
Well, I reckon she’s kind of lonesome, Raymond said. I’m going to say she kind of misses being here.
I guess maybe she does, said Harold.

Rose Tyler is a social worker and through her, we meet a loving but vulnerable family, a couple with special needs, struggling to raise two children, while finding several aspects of their lives difficult to manage. Their story is painful to read as they become prey to a predatory relative whom they are unable to eject from their lives and will be judged for.

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And though each family has it’s struggles and hardships, somehow people’s paths cross and sometimes good wins over bad, a closed heart opens, someone is in a position to be there for another just at the right moment, even when they don’t have the words.

Beside her Guthrie stood watching the old man. He wanted to think of words that would make some difference but there were none in any language he knew that were sufficient to the moment or that would change a single thing. They stayed quite for some time.

And an old man who has never done it before, learns to dance and find joy once again.

She moved backward and he followed her. She backed again and he stayed with her, moving slowly. Can you hear the beat? she said.
No ma’am. I can’t think about that and not step on you at the same time.

I recognised that feeling about halfway into Eventide of becoming completely enamoured and invested in the characters, wanting the best for them, feeling afraid for them. In their own small worlds they struggled separately, not knowing, but discovering that part of the solution to their moving out of one state and towards an improved one was about making that connection with others, being open to the kindness of people, finding those who were genuine in that offering, being prepared to take that risk.

Beautifully written, incredibly moving, a wonderful book.

Further Reading

My review of Book One Plainsong

Plainsong by Kent Haruf

Plainsong is a what I’d call rural town domestic fiction, it reminds me of reading Anne Tyler, they’re like the yin and yang of small town America storytelling.

The language is plain speaking and goes beyond what is said, sharing those unspoken moments that come from people who spend more time in proximity to the land and with animals and nature than humans.

We are introduced to a few members of the Holt, Denver community, each chapter headed with a name starting with the school teacher Tom Guthrie and his sons Ike and Bobby. Tom takes care of his nine, ten-year-old boys because their mother is upstairs in her darkened room, disinclined to come out.

They visit cattle ranchers, the McPheron brothers Raymond and Harold, to help out with the cows when they need an extra pair of hands. The brothers have never married, live alone in the house they grew up in, left suddenly when both parents were killed in a car accident. After helping out they pay the boys ten dollars each, against the wishes of their father.

That’s too much, their father said.
Should we give it back?
No, he said. He took his hat off and scratched the back of his head and put his hat back on. I guess not. That would be an insult. They want you to keep it. They enjoyed having you out there.
But Dad, Ike said.
Why didn’t they ever get married? And have a family like everyone else?
I don’t know, Guthrie said. People don’t sometimes.

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Victoria is a pregnant teenager whose mother locked the door on her. She finds refuge first with Maggie, then with the McPheron brothers. Maggie  envisages the ideal solution, that could help each other out, something that would never have happened without her intervention. Victoria doesn’t tell anyone who the father is, but she tells Maggie that he was nice to her.

He told me things.
Like what for instance?
Like once he said I had beautiful eyes. He said my eyes were like black diamonds lit up on a starry night.
They are, honey.
But nobody ever told me.
No, Maggie said, they never do.

There are the innumerable kindnesses by some in the community and many cases of abandonment by others. Those who are quick to judge and those who care enough to help find solutions.

Haruf quietly explores the intricate ways of his diverse set of characters, whose lives traverse through quiet, mundane moments and dramatic turning points, showing how necessary a community is to all the individuals within it.

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Victoria asks Maggie again for help, to navigate the silence in the McPheron household.

It’s so quiet out there, the girl said. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. We eat supper. They read the paper. I go into my room and study. And that’s about it. Every day it’s like that.
Is everything else all right?
Oh, they’re kind to me. If that’s what you mean. They’re nice enough.
But they don’t talk, Maggie said.
I don’t know if they even want me out there, the girl said. I can’t tell what they’re thinking.

There is humor in the simplicity of it all, of people coming out of their shells, of the learning and there is pain, the suffering inflicted by those who need to act out on how bad they feel inside.

You’re not talking to her, Maggie Jones said. You and Raymond don’t talk like you should to that girl. Women want to hear some conversation in the evening. We don’t think that’s too much to ask. We’re willing to put up with a lot from you men, but in the evening we want to hear some talking. We want to have a little conversation in the house.

And then there are those moments of renewal, of something new that awakens, when the good that comes from making the change begins to bear fruit, to make a difference in someone’s life, knowing they are not alone, that they are loved, that humanity can shine through.

It’s a quiet comfort read, perfect for this extended period of confinement and it is the first novel of a trilogy, so next up  is Eventide, then Benediction.