Recommending a most favorite book can be a dicey proposition, as you are simultaneously raising expectations and risking rejection. So it was no small matter when K. not only recommended her favorite book, but bought me a copy to boot.
I was not disappointed.
Kent Haruf’s Plainsong is a lovely, delicate tale, as quietly elegant as its title promises. His understated economy of words and deep hold on the world he depicts are both beautiful and haunting. From within this mostly meditative read, I laughed aloud, appreciating the innocence and aching charm of this passage, missing my own once-little boys.
[Set up: Two brothers, aged 9 & 10, living in Colorado in the time of paper routes and teachers’ smoking lounges, are sent by an elderly woman they barely know to shop for ingredients to bake cookies.]
They left her apartment and went down the stairs to the sidewalk and into the sharp winter air on Main Street and on to Johnson’s at the corner of Second. When they were inside the store it was a good deal more complicated than they had thought it would be. On the ranks of shelves were two brands of brown sugar. Also, there were quick oats and regular oats and two measures of the cardboard barrels they came in. And with eggs, three sizes and two colors. They debated the matter between themselves, standing in the aisles of the store while around them the other shoppers, middle-aged women and young mothers, looked at them curiously and went on pushing their full carts.
We settled on the cheap brown sugar, Ike said.
Yes, Bobby said.
And the big one of regular oats.
So now with eggs we take the medium ones.
Because they’re in the middle.
It makes a difference, Ike said. The one between the other two ones. It makes it even.
Bobby looked at him, considering. All right, he said. Which color?
Brown or white.
They turned toward the refrigerated case once more and regarded the tiers of cardboard egg cartons. Mother bought white ones, Ike said.
She’s not our mother, Bobby said. Maybe she wants brown ones.
Why would she want brown ones?
She had us get brown sugar.
Because it comes in white too, Bobby said. Only she said brown.
All right, Bobby said.
All right then.
All right then. Thanks, K.