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Kent Haruf, Eventide

Eventide represents author Kent Haruf's welcomed return to his fictional small town of Holt, Colorado and the disparate and seemingly unconnected lives of its inhabitants. Most significantly, Haruf continues the delightful story of Raymond and Harold McPheron, the aged bachelor rancher brothers from Plainsong, Haruf's previous Holt novel. The McPherons were the centerpiece of that novel as they took the pregnant teenager Victoria into their ascetic cloiser of a home, and in doing so discovered their surprising capacity for warmth and human compassion and an ability to change their lives for the better after decades of stasis.

As in the previous novel, in Eventide Haruf presents not only the McPherons but also several other Holt families, each of whom live well apart from the others and know each other little if at all. But gradually Haruf draws them together, their lives slowly intersecting in surprising but realistic ways. A parentless 11-year-old, mature beyond his years and all but deprived of his childhood, cares for his elderly grandfather. A poor disabled couple struggles to keep their family (an intact, nuclear family, a type all but unheard of in these two novels) together. A mother of two young daughter struggles with her abandonment by her husband.

But as compelling as those lives are, here Raymond McPheron is the hero as he first stoically deals with Victoria's departure for college and then unspeakable tragedy. Later, as if buoyed by the success of his fatherly relationship with Victoria and her young daughter and the lesson learned of the value of reaching out to others, he embarks on the first romantic relationship of his long life, with all of the touching awkwardness one might expect. He reaches out even further, both to that 11-year-old as well as Victoria's boyfriend, taking the first tentative steps toward showing them the love and acceptance they need and which Raymond somehow finds himself able to provide.

Admittedly, Eventide didn't have quite the impact on me as did Plainsong, which caught me so off-guard with the richness of its story and the utter memorability of its characters. Eventide had those things, too, of course, but yet lost some of the freshness of the new, in the same way that a second visit to a memorable vacation spot is usually never quite as special as the first visit. The story also developed a bit too slowly, as Haruf took perhaps a bit too much time in drawing the scattered characters together, with a few storylines left dangling until shortly before the end. But all of the characters do finally come to resolution in their lives, some for the better, some worse, some uncertain - just as real-world lives turn out.

But falling slightly short of the mighty Plainsong is nothing to be ashamed of, and Eventide is in itself an excellent book, a quiet and expertly drawn portrait of humanity. Highly recommended.

February 12, 2010 in Books | Permalink