Thursday, March 30, 2017

HIPPIE BOY: A Girl's Story -- Ingrid Ricks

 
In every adventure story there has to be at least one villain, something that imperils the hero - a mountain, a wolf, a whale, microbe, vampire, zombie, extraterrestrial - or a dark-hearted human being, sometimes even one in the hero's own skin. Ingrid Ricks introduces us to her main villain at the get-go.
Here's how her story begins:


I should have slammed the door in Earl's face.

It's what I wanted to do the minute I saw him on our porch, snow clinging to his greasy black hair like dandruff.

He was thick and short, five feet seven at most, with pasty white skin and a bulging gut that pressed against his plaid shirt and hung in a lump over his giant silver belt buckle.

I noticed that his fingernails were stained and filled with dirt...but it was his eyes that bothered me most. They were icy-blue and hard, magnified by thick glasses that made them look like they were going to pop out of his head...as soon as Earl entered, a smell that reminded me of rotting hamburger meat filled the air.




      Time for a name check. "HippieBoy" is her dad's pet name for the clear favorite of his five children. His name? He's the other half of the duo in this excellent adventure, of course.

     We see Ingrid's unrestrained adoration of Jerry through the eyes of the fairytale maiden in distress regarding her armored knight. Her near worship dims only during momentary glimpses of her dad's obvious flaws, mainly his sudden volcanic losses of temper and his occasional selfish disregard for her feelings. Her voice as a writer keeps to this almost childlike innocence, yielding barely noticeably to her incremental realization of the role inversion between her and her dad. He regards her, patronizingly at first, as his business partner on the road. As she wins his trust she assumes more and more responsibility, from navigating to scheduling and budgeting and eventually demonstrating effectively that she, too had the knack for selling.

Ingrid Ricks


      Ingrid's growing self reliance peaks during a frightening crisis that finds her alone in Tampico, Ill., with her dad in jail facing possible extradition to Texas on embezzlement charges, the fault of bad checks written by a former employee. Here she brings to bear upon the county sheriff and later the local judge the same grit and pluck she'd drawn upon at home to keep Earl at bay. She recognizes that suddenly hers and Jerry's roles are reversed and that she now is the rescuing knight.

      Hippie Boy is the wrenching tale of a family caught in a maelstrom of life's misfortunes. Its happy ending can be credited largely to the love and courage of a young woman who hitched her hopes to an unlikely champion and found an even unlikelier one along the way. 


[For more Friday's Forgotten Books check the links on Patti Abbott's unforgettable blog]

Thursday, March 23, 2017

A VIEW OF THE CHARLES -- Con Chapman

A recovering addict of the defunct TV series Boston Legal, I was hoping Con Chapman's cast would include at least some of the usual suspects in a Boston law firm - the nutty but lovable aging partner, the silver-tongued courtroom lion, the stuffy senior partners, feisty young turks, bimbos, serious babes and minor, backstabbing office politicos.


      Happily A View of the Charles does have them all - except the silver-tongued courtroom lion. Well, maybe it does at that, but we never get to see Gil Finnerty in a courtroom because A View of the Charles is the first of many books about lawyers I've read that never sets foot in a courtroom.

      A View of the Charles approaches the subject of lawyers and their fears, joys, quirks, suspicions, hopes, fantasies, lusts and resentments with such knowing subtlety (Did I mention Chapman's a lawyer?) that we conclude from the following brief conversation between two lawyers who are not close - Finnerty and Jared Berger - that Finnerty likely would fill quite admirably the role of silver-tongued courtroom lion:

      Berger: "I've got a couple of disputes that are going to end up in court soon and I need someone who's a real asshole."

     There was silence for a moment as Finnerty absorbed this last comment.

      Finnerty: "I didn't know you felt that way about me, Jared. Thanks--I really appreciate it."

      Berger: "No problem. You're one of the best."

      Finnerty: "You can be a real asshole too, you know."

      Berger: "Coming from you, that's high praise."

      Finnerty: "Well, I mean it."

      Berger: "Thanks."


Chapman - a real...Boston lawyer


      I can almost see the two of them sipping brandy and smoking cigars, enjoying the evening view of Boston from a veranda outside Berger's office after a tough day of litigation. Two assholes and damned proud of it. 




[For more Friday's Forgotten Books check the links on Patti Abbott's unforgettable blog]



Wednesday, March 15, 2017

THE COREY FORD SPORTING TREASURY – Chuck Petrie, editor

I can't tell you what time the bomb went off but I will guess it was shortly after daybreak. Otherwise I'd probably have been standing, and shrapnel most likely would have severely wounded me, either directly or as I tiptoed across the floor getting the hell out of my bedroom. The laughter came later, and lasted much longer—to this day, in fact. I was 9 or 10 when it happened.

Ordinarily I probably would have had to put the blame where it belonged—partly on me but mostly on my buddies, the colorful and wily members of the Lower Forty Shooting, Angling and Inside Straight Club. Had I been truthful, though, no doubt my parents would have post-haste canceled my subscription to Field & Stream, the only magazine I subscribed to in those days. I visited my Lower Forty friends every month when the magazine arrived. I read each issue thoroughly, but the feature I always went to first was Corey Ford's column,Minutes of the Lower Forty,” bringing a new episode of the “respectable” members of Ford's imaginary Hardscrabble, USA, who met most frequently at Uncle Perk's Sporting Goods Store to swap lies and plot escapades that mostly backfired or came embarrassingly to naught.
For the most part these country gents were well-meaning—except for their hatred of cats. I would not tolerate this today, but back then I held a bit of a grudge against one of our first cats for peeing on my treasured Shooter's Bible, leaving me without prime fantasy grist until the next annual edition came out. Basically I learned about sportsmanship and fellowship and the meaning of “inside straight.” I also developed a hankering for “Old Stump Blower,” the mysterious elixir Uncle Perk kept in a jug in the lower left drawer of his desk and passed around liberally to quench club members' thirsts and calm their occasionally unsettled nerves.
I imagine by now you are starting to catch the drift of circumstances that led to the explosion in my bedroom that acquainted me inadvertently with the process that went into the making of the “real” fictional Old Stump Blower. If nothing else I learned the importance of the cork plug rather than the screw-on metal cap for glass jugs of certain beverages.
I also got older. Other interests supplanted those of my pre-adolescent years. I let my Field & Stream subscription lapse. My membership in the Lower Forty went with it. And then, sometime back before the advent of online bookstores, I came across an ad for The Corey Ford Sporting Treasury.
BOOM!! It all came back to me—Uncle Perk, Cousin Sid, Judge Parker, Angus McNab, Doc Hall, Dexter Smeed, Colonel Cobb, and...drumroll here...Old Stump Blower itself! I mailed in the check, the book came back, and I soon discovered a fountain of youth of the imagination. And I found out finally who Corey Ford really was.

I learned about Corey Ford from James W. Hall III, M.D., who wrote the introduction to this collection of Lower Forty columns and other Ford stories. Hall and Ford became good friends. In fact, Hall reveals he was the inspiration for one of the Lower Forty members (you may guess which one). When they met, Ford was author-in-residence at Dartmouth College. You may also guess which Lower Forty member was inspired by the college's secretary, Sidney Hayward. (See, they weren't so imaginary after all!)
Ford was a prolific author and sportsman. Known primarily as a humorist, in the twenties he was a member of a club perhaps even more coveted than the Lower Forty: New York City's famous Algonquin Round Table, hangout of celebrity literati, actors, and wits.
Reading the Lower Forty Minutes today I see much more in them than I did as a callow youth. His humor was subtle and sly, and, as satire, could be as biting as anything Dorothy Parker quipped at her Algonquin fellows. Here's an example from one of the minutes (Read it closely or it'll slip right past your nose):
All the members of the Lower Forty Shooting, Angling and Inside Straight Club nodded in approval as Judge Parker offered his motion. “Only way to combat juvenile delinquency,” he insisted, “and that's to inculcate in the younger generation the principles of sportsmanship and honesty for which our club stands.” He helped himself to another slab of rat-trap cheese when Uncle Perk wasn't looking.
Okay, there's that. Scalawags, the lot of them, in little ways. Good examples for the youngsters, no? But then there's this. It's opening day of trout season, when every year the members all head to Aldo Libbey's farm at his invitation to fish his brook. Not this morning, though. Day before, at the club's April meeting, every last member had what sounded like a pretty good excuse for skipping the annual event. We soon learn from Doc Hall the elderly, failing Aldo is at death's door. This morning, instead of heading to the convention he'd used as his excuse, Doc slips out before daylight and drives to Aldo's house on Hardscrabble Hill.
Just happened to be driving by, Aldo,” Doc said lamely, “and wondered if there was anything I could do for you.”
Ain't nothin' nobody can do for me.” His eyes met Doc's. “You know it, an' I know it, too.”
Doc hesitated, and then nodded.
Soon, one by one, the other members arrive and file into the bedroom. Just happened to be driving past, each one says. They chat. Aldo assures them he's okay. I got my memories. That's all a man needs to content him when he comes to the end of the long day.” He tells them to head to the brook. “Them flies will be landin' on the water, and mebbe that old sockdollager will be sitting there under the bank. Go see if one o' you can take him. It will be a nice thing to look back on someday.” And so they do:
The sun was high overhead as Doc straightened his line across the pool, and dropped his fly beside the far bank. There was a swirl, a square tail thrashed the water once, and his reel screamed. The other members gathered to watch him as he led the big trout to shore, and knelt beside it. He wet his hand, held the trout behind the gills, and removed the fly. He released his grip; it flicked its tail once, and darted out of sight.
"What have ye done, mon?" Mister. McNab gasped. "It's gone."
Doc was looking at the house on the hill. He said to himself slowly: "It isn't gone. I've got it to look back on some day."

I haven't fished, hunted, or played poker in years, but by jingo I love this book!


[For more Friday's Forgotten Books check the links on Patti Abbott's unforgettable blog]

Sunday, March 12, 2017

BLAZE! RED ROCK RAMPAGE – Ben Boulden

For years Ben Boulden has been interviewing other writers and reviewing their novels for the magazine Mystery Scene, and on his blog, Gravetapping. Now he's a novelist, as well. His debut, Blaze! Red Rock Rampage, was published last month by Rough Edges Press. It's a fun read. In fact it's a rip-snortin', shoot-em-up, roll in the hay worth of thrills and chuckles read.


Boulden has joined a stable of writers working on the publisher's new Blaze! series, which grew from a brainchild of longtime novelist Stephen Mertz. I learned from Boulden's in-depth interview with Mertz last year, that he has written under various pseudonyms including Don Pendleton, for The Executioner series, and as Cliff Banks, for Tunnel Rats. Mertz told Boulden the Blaze! series is schedued to pop out a new novel every two months, thus the need for the writing team. Boulden's is Nr. 15. He's already at work on another.

In his interview with Boulden, Mertz explained the Blaze! series was born of a short story he wrote called "The Last Stand," about "a pair of gunfighters who are the two fastest guns in the West…who just happen to be married to each other. Kate and J.D. Blaze. I couldn't get away from the idea that those two deserved more than one story. I am happy to say that Rough Edges Press felt the same way and, in fact, wanted to amp up with a bi-monthly publication schedule. I’m too slow a writer to accommodate that, so a handful of topnotch writers stepped in to maintain consistent scheduling."

He created Kate as "a little smarter" than J.D., "but dog-gone-it, J.D. is a standup gent. They banter back and forth in between shooting the bad guys and sorting out various marital issues. These are western tall tales for today’s audience." From that description, Ben Boulden clearly has the hang of it. Red Rock Rampagen opens with Kate and J.D. (stands for Jehoram Delfonso, but never ever call him that to his face!) sleeping under the stars in southern Utah's badlands. Within minutes they're in a shootout with villains who have come upon them with malice aforethought. Kate kills one with a single shot from her Winchester while J.D. takes off on foot after the other. Alas J.D.'s villain bushwhacks him, steals his prized Colt revolver, and vamooses, leaving J.D. unconscious next to a rock fall. Kate brings hubby around and tells him what she learned from the other varmint's dying words. J.D. makes an amorous remark, Kate reminds him they have much work ahead of them.

`We sure do,'” J.D. said as he pulled Kate’s lithe form into his arms, closing the gap between them into nothing." Such romantic action occurs throughout Red Rock Rampage during frequent breaks in the shooting and narrow escaping. And novices these kids are not, in essentially whatever they might do. This little scene is typical:

“How about the one from Flagstaff?” J.D. said, referring to a seemingly awkward but extremely rewarding sex position from Kate’s worn copy of the Kama Sutra.

You read my mind.” Kate pulled J.D. towards the bed at the back of the tiny room. The dark streaks of light filtering through the building’s roughly constructed walls illuminated the curve of her hips and the tips of her breasts. Then: “Not enough room to get fancy,” she said. “Better go straight this one time.”



Typical marriage? Well, I'm sure we could find a married couple or three who would grin or grimace at a scene like this:



“Jehoram Delfonso!”

J.D. flinched at the sound of his proper name. Kate was the only living person allowed to speak it and when she did, J.D. knew he was in deep trouble.

“Stop speaking this instant!” Kate said. “I’m coming down.”

Kate glared at J.D. as she walked past him towards the two women. Her hands motioned a “don’t say anything” gesture and her eyes took harsh notice of J.D. And J.D. knew better than to say a word. Instead he held back, feeling excluded as the women gathered in a small circle. He watched as they grasped hands and listened to their voices, muted, the occasional sob making him uncomfortable as he tried to keep himself distracted by searching for unwanted visitors.



Let's not forget landscape, either. It's here, have no fear. Boulden takes us right into the middle of it, as if we're watching Frederic Remington filling a canvas with paint while telling us stories, too:

The sun moved slowly across the afternoon sky as Kate and Beth rode the high desert, its heat unobstructed by the canyon walls and the bleak, flat landscape of the desert. The valley widened in places to several miles, narrowing in others to no more than a few hundred yards. Ancient sandstone spires clawed skyward towards the unfathomable eternities. The horses sputtered their complaints and Kate was forced to slow the march, stopping every several minutes to allow the horses rest and a small taste of the water they hauled.

You might be wondering about the plot. Well, my friends, it's a doozie. Hired by the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway to use "any means necessary" to put an end to a rash of robberies on their trains. Soon, between their Kama Sutra experiments, they find themselves unwelcome visitors to a remote Morman community run by a tyrannical renegade Mormon with, naturally, many wives. It's here J.D. discovers the sheriff is wearing J.D.'s stolen shootin' iron. The plot doth thicken, we soon find, and verily I found it damned hard to stop reading long enough to hit the head now and again for that refreshing relief we rarely if ever hear about in the TV commercials. Ben did a fine job with Red Rock Rampage, if you haven't figured that out yet. He did, indeed.
Windblown Ben Boulden

In an interview with the new author, turning the tables on his customary spot asking the questions, I tried to weasel a hint or two out of him as to the plot of his next Blaze! episode. He enticed me with this:

"Without saying too much, my next Blaze! story involves a legend of Spanish Gold in Utah’s Eastern highlands and a bunch of bad people who want everything for themselves. I’m excited about it, but to this point the writing has been very slow. Something I’m planning to change over the next few weeks."

As my interviewing skills have gotten pretty rusty since my days writing for newspapers, I asked Ben how he learned to do such good ones. I was hoping he'd give me some tips to help me do this one better. (His answers from here on will be in italics—the reverse, I think, of how he does his.)

Interviewing authors, or probably anyone, really, terrifies me. There is so much to know about the subject, both as an individual and as a writer, that I find myself lost when I begin developing questions. I don’t want to miss anything important. Back in 2007 I did a number of interviews for Saddlebums Western blog. None of the interviews were especially good or bad, but an interview I did with Stephen Lodge, who had had an impressive career in Hollywood as a script writer, costume designer and actor, stands out to me. When I did the interview, I missed a good deal of what was likely the most interesting areas of his career, including writing and working on the cult classic horror film Kingdom of Spiders. His work as costumer on the TV series The Fugitive. That interview taught me the importance of preparation, so now when I interview an author I find everything I can about the person online—other interviews, profiles, etc.—and read as many of their books as I can.

So I went back and studied Gravetapping some more, and read the short story posted there Ben worried might not measure up to his current skill. He called it "The Hanging":

Its only claim to fame is it was a finalist for a British anthology that was to include Ramsey Campbell. I haven’t read it in years, but in my memory, it’s okay if a little dark.

I loved it. I asked him how long he's been writing fiction:

Since my early-teens. Mostly short stories. Many were/are pretty awful, but a few, despite their flaws, I liked very much when I originally wrote them and I still have fond memories of. I sold a story about a widower, World War Two veteran, near the end of his life sitting in front of an old radio listing to Frank Sinatra. When his eyes closed, time evaporated and he was back in specific moments of his life; frolicking in the ocean with his young wife, charging Omaha Beach, reading to his young daughter. The magazine went defunct before it could be published, but I have always had a soft spot for that one. Another story, “Electric Man” was published in Amazing Journeys, a small science fiction magazine (now gone, I think) and it was the first story I received cash money for writing. A few other stories have seen print, but none are very good and I hope most of the copies have been burned.

I’ve started a number of novels that never got past fifty pages, but back in the late-1990s I actually finished one. An action Western with a revenge theme. I still like the story, but the narrative was as flawed as a piece of fiction can be and the prose as clunky as a Yugo. The story may reappear one day, but the manuscript has long since disappeared into the ether, which is too bad because maybe it’s not as bad as I remember it.

Learning from Gravetapping he's a family man with a wife and a young daughter, whom he supports as a fulltime auditor, I asked Ben how he manages his time to squeeze in doing reviews, interviews and writing fiction:

My writing schedule is less than routine. I wish I could make a schedule where I write from 5 AM to 7 AM every morning, but, with work and my other responsibilities, I haven’t been able to make that work. I write when I can, sometimes for fifteen minutes and other times for two or three or four hours. I have a weekly goal of 2,500 – 3,000 original words (exclusive of rewriting, which I do constantly as I write) and my goal is to do at least some writing every day, but one day I may only write 100 words and another I may write 6- or 700. But I try to keep that weekly goal in sight, knowing that every word gets me that much closer.

While writing Red Rock Rampage I was traveling heavily for work and a good deal of that story was written late at night in hotel rooms. I hated being away from home, but the quiet evenings and nights made for great writing. When at home I have a small office where I do part of my writing and the rest is done, primarily, at the kitchen table. As far as deadlines, the ones that make me sweat are those for Mystery Scene Magazine because Rough Edges Press, publisher of Blaze!, hasn’t given me any deadlines so far. A very good thing since I need a good deal of lead time to finish the stories.

As Red Rock Rampage ramped up (I know...groan) the demands on his writing time and skills, I asked him to share some of his thoughts about that:

Red Rock Rampage was a joyful experience to write. The series creator, Stephen Mertz, offered to let me give it a try (no guarantee of publication, but with his stated confidence in my capability) and everything worked out. The main characters, Kate and J. D. Blaze, really came to life for me. I fell in literary love with Kate. Smart, tough and with a sly sense of humor. And when she and J. D. share a scene the chemistry between the two was wonderful, and I hope my writing captured at least a little of what I saw as I was writing the book and the characters. My style didn’t change much in writing this one, other than my attempts to make the red rock country of Southern Utah as vibrant as I could without overusing descriptive sentences.

I tend to enjoy books that have a sense of humor, no matter the genre, and I tried to do the same with RRR. I didn’t want it to be silly, but I wanted a few moments, conversations, situations, that made the reader smile. I was amused with J. D.’s ability to take a beating and immediately afterward have amorous feelings toward Kate, and Kate’s ability to make J. D. do pretty much anything she wanted him to do. Those two characters, both created by Stephen Mertz, are wonderful to write and I hope my enthusiasm shows in the narrative. I’m working on another Blaze! novel now and I’m hoping to have it finished in the next few months.

Starting to warm up with the questions, I asked Ben if his long-range plans include writing in genres other than westerns:

My primary goal is to write in the crime and suspense markets. I have several ideas percolating for novels and I’m working on a hardboiled crime short story now.

He, of course, is keeping details of those ideas face down for now. I then asked him, based on his own writing experience, if he had any advice for aspiring writers just starting out and hoping to break into the commercial markets:

Keep writing. I had given up on publishing fiction as recently as last year, but I never stopped writing fiction. I wasn’t writing anything publishable, but rather individual scenes that caught my fancy. A mother mourning the loss of a child. A child’s birthday. A cowboy riding fences. Keep at it, which I’m planning to do, and something good may happen.

And now? With his first novel on the market awaiting reviews and reader responses, how does it feel?

I’m...slightly embarrassed to get the attention. And a strange desire for everyone to like it. A clichĂ©, but it is kind of like sending a child into the world knowing you can no longer protect it from the world.

Well, Ben, not to worry about this review! Your child not only gets safe passage into the world, but with enthusiastic best wishes to boot. 


 

Thursday, March 9, 2017

PLAINSONG – Kent Haruf

I sighed inwardly when my literary advisor, Fictionaut's Kitty Boots, gave me this assignment: Plainsong, by Kent Haruf. I recalled seeing something awhile back about the book, that it was praised by the folks who matter in the book-appraising business, but somehow it didn't strike me at the time as something I might like. Maybe it was the title, suggesting something precious, overly literary maybe. Or maybe I was in some sort of literary rebellion, as a quick check reveals I snubbed all of the new releases that year. When Ms. Boots highly recommended Plainsong last week I remembered the title but not the name of the subsequently celebrated author.


Of course now there was no question of my reading Plainsong and, to paraphrase Sam Spade's crack to Joel Cairo after bitch-slapping him in The Maltese Falcon, liking it. I already risk Ms. Boots's displeasure should she learn of my enjoying the arguably intermission-quality Pistol Poets, and saying so on this blog. I offer Plainsong as an advance on my penance.

Anyone know a good recipe for crow? Please leave suggestions in the comment section below. In my defense, if I may, while indeed loving Plainsong when I read it finally last weekend, I suspect eighteen years ago even had I given the novel a look it might not have worked for me. My tastes have broadened since those herky-jerky days of beer and bongos--the more so since Ms. Boots accepted me last year into her select circle of reading acolytes.

To be fair, I did not know then what I learned yesterday in William Yardley's Dec. 2, 2014 New York Times obituary of Kent Haruf that the authorpulled a wool cap over his eyes when he sat down at his manual typewriter each morning so he could `write blind'...punctuation, capitalization, paragraphs—they waited for the second draft. The first draft usually came quickly, a stream of imagery and dialogue that ran to the margins, single-spaced,” Sort of the writer's answer to Jackson Pollock's painting method. I might have given the book a chance back then out of sheer fascination for something so bizarre.
Haruf in writing shed with grandson

To be picky, Plainsong presents a stylistic quirk that might confuse or irk readers accustomed to quotation marks and attributions to distinguish characters' voices from one another's and from the narrator's. I don't recall seeing any quotation marks anywhere in Plainsong, and it took me awhile to get used to trying to guess who was speaking. Sort of like having a wool cap pulled over my eyes and ears. But once I got the hang of it I could see and hear right through that cap.

As Plainsong was lauded by top critics at the time it's not my intention to second guess anyone or rehash old praise, such as lavishing exuberance over the lucid, minutely detailed, almost three-dimensional depiction of the environment, ambience and plain people in and around the fictitious Eastern Colorado town of Holt.

I know the crusty old bachelor McPheron brothers better than I know myself. Then again, I don't own a ranch, but if I did I'd trust Raymond and Harold McPheron (they come as a pair) to run the place better than any bunkhouseful of cowboys from Denver to the Rio Grande. I did not cringe in horror when high school teacher Maggie Jones arranged for seventeen-year-old pregnant, homeless Victoria Roubideaux to live with the old goats at least until she had her baby. The brothers cringed at first until they thought it over. And we can only imagine most of what they thought, because they did not often express their thoughts in words. This sometimes gave them some trouble, such as this little discussion they had in which one brother seemed to the other to be comparing Victoria to one of their pregnant heifers:

I was only just saying, Harold said. What are you getting so riled up about it for?

I don’t appreciate you saying she’s a heifer.

I never said she was one. I wouldn’t say that for money.

It sounded like it to me. Like you was.

I just thought of it, is all, Harold said. Don’t you ever think of something?

Yeah. I think of something sometimes.

Well then.

But I don’t have to say it. Just because I think of it.

All right. I talked out before I thought. You want to shoot me now or wait till full dark?

I’ll have to let you know, Raymond said.

It should come as no surprise that the brothers needed a little verbal prodding before they reached the point of defending the girl from unseemly comparisons. Maggie Jones had the honors:

And you—she smiled at them—you old solitary bastards need somebody too. Somebody or something besides an old red cow to care about and worry over. It’s too lonesome out here. Well, look at you. You’re going to die some day without ever having had enough trouble in your life. Not of the right kind anyway. This is your chance.

The girl moves in with them and everything seems to be humming along. Maggie Jones, who keeps an eye and an ear on things at the McPherons, comes to discover a conversation gap between the girl and the brothers. She points this out, and the brothers do their best to close this gap. After dinner one night, instead of going their separate ways—the girl to her room to study, the brothers keeping to themselves—they call Victoria back out and sit her down to have a conversation. All they can think of to discuss is the farm market. Here's a snippet of what took place:

We just was wondering . . .what you thought of the market?

The girl looked at him. What? she said.

On the radio, he said. The man said today how soybeans was down a point. But that live cattle was holding steady.

And we wondered, Raymond said, what you thought of it.

Buy or sell, would you say.

This feeble beginning leads to a conversation that lasts hours, which, mercifully, Haruf does not depict in its entirety. Yet, it's Plainsong's dialogue I find most engaging. It sounds right to the ear, but it doesn't drag on. We get enough for an authentic feel of the characters and their concerns, while the narrator quietly moves the story along. The narrator, of course, is the true star of Plainsong.

While the “old solitary bastards” emerged as my favorite characters, and others such as Maggie Jones, Victoria Roubideaux, Tom Guthrie, and his sons, Ike and Bobby, are memorable as well for their courage, inherent kindliness, and almost innocent acceptance of their lot in a life. But Holt, Colorado, though is as fictitious as Andy Griffith's Mayberry, it's not as free of meanass villainy. Victoria's mother threw her out in the street when she discovered the girl was pregnant. The mother's part ends there, and she is seen no more in Plainsong. The punk who made Victoria pregnant neither seeks nor finds redemption in Plainsong, nor does the spoiled, cowardly punk bully in Tom Guthrie's class who assaults Guthrie's young sons. Nor do that punk's proudly ignorant, foul-mouthed, enabling parents. Impressions they made on me lay moldering in a dark recess of my memory.
Emerged from writing shed

Snugly secure from the outside world, Kent Haruf was master of his own world under that wool cap. In sum I find it an enviable world, and my imagination started whining when it could see our visit drawing to an end.

Happy to report Haruf gave us two more novels in the series: Eventide, which came out five years later, and Benediction, appearing a year before his death. Many of the same characters are said to populate both sequels. I'll read them if only for Raymond and Harold McPharon. I believe even Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times's feared literary ego butcher, would do the same.




[For more Friday's Forgotten Books check the links on Patti Abbott's unforgettable blog]