One of The Best Books of The Year: Chicago Tribune, Entertainment Weekly, The Plain Dealer, and Rocky Mountain News
Kent Haruf, award-winning, bestselling author of Plainsong returns to the high-plains town of Holt, Colorado, with a novel of masterful authority. The aging McPheron brothers are learning to live without Victoria Roubideaux, the single mother they took in and who has now left their ranch to start college. A lonely young boy stoically cares for his grandfather while a disabled couple tries to protect their a violent relative. As these lives unfold and intersect, Eventide unveils the immemorial truths about human beings: their fragility and resilience, their selfishness and goodness, and their ability to find family in one another.
About the Author
Kent Haruf is the author of five previous novels (and, with the photographer Peter Brown, West of Last Chance). His honors include a Whiting Foundation Writers’ Award, the Mountains & Plains Booksellers Award, the Wallace Stegner Award, and a special citation from the PEN/Hemingway Foundation; he was also a finalist for the National Book Award, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and the New Yorker Book Award. He died in November 2014, at the age of seventy-one.
Hometown:South Central Mountains of Colorado
Date of Birth:February 24, 1943
Place of Birth:Pueblo, Colorado
Education:B.A., Nebraska Wesleyan University, 1965; M.F.A., Iowa University (Writers' Workshop), 1973
Read an Excerpt
They came up from the horse barn in the slanted light of early morning. The McPheron brothers, Harold and Raymond. Old men approaching an old house at the end of summer. They came on across the gravel drive past the pickup and the car parked at the hogwire fencing and came one after the other through the wire gate. At the porch they scraped their boots on the saw blade sunken in the dirt, the ground packed and shiny around it from long use and mixed with barnlot manure, and walked up the plank steps onto the screened porch and entered the kitchen where the nineteen-year-old girl Victoria Roubideaux sat at the pinewood table feeding oatmeal to her little daughter.
In the kitchen they removed their hats and hung them on pegs set into a board next to the door and began at once to wash up at the sink. Their faces were red and weather-blasted below their white foreheads, the coarse hair on their round heads grown iron-gray and as stiff as the roached mane of a horse. When they finished at the sink they each in turn used the kitchen towel to dry off, but when they began to dish up their plates at the stove the girl made them sit down.
There's no use in you waiting on us, Raymond said.
I want to, she said. I'll be gone tomorrow.
She rose with the child on her hip and brought two coffee cups and two bowls of oatmeal and a plate of buttered toast to the table and then sat down again.
Harold sat eyeing the oatmeal. You think she might of at least give us steak and eggs this once, he said. On account of the occasion. But no sir, it's still only warm mush. Which tastes about like the back page of a wet newspaper. Delivered yesterday.
You can eat what you want after I'm gone. I know you will anyway.
Yes ma'am, probably so. Then he looked at her. But I'm not in any rush for you to leave here. I'm just trying to joke you a little.
I know you are. She smiled at him. Her teeth were very white in her brown face, and her black hair was thick and shiny and cut off neat below her shoulders. I'm almost ready, she said. First I want to feed Katie and get her dressed, then we can start.
Let me have her, Raymond said. Is she done eating?
No, she isn't, the girl said. She might eat something for you though. She just turns her head away for me.
Raymond stood and walked around the table and took up the little girl and returned to his seat and sat her on his lap and sprinkled sugar on the oatmeal in his bowl and poured out milk from the jar on the table and began to eat, the black-haired round-cheeked girl watching him as if she were fascinated by what he was doing. He held her easily, comfortably, his arm about her, and spooned up a small portion and blew over it and offered it to her. She took it. He ate more himself. Then he blew over another spoonful and gave that to her. Harold poured milk into a glass and she leaned forward over the table and drank a long time, using both hands, until she had to stop for breath.
What am I going to do in Fort Collins when she won't eat? Victoria said.
You can call on us, Harold said. We'll come see about this little girl in about two minutes. Won't we, Katie.
The child looked across the table at him, unblinking. Her eyes were as black as her mother's, like buttons or currants. She said nothing but took up Raymond's calloused hand and moved it toward the cereal bowl. When he held out the spoon she pushed his hand toward his mouth. Oh, he said. All right. He blew over it elaborately, puffing his cheeks, moving his red face back and forth, and now she would eat again.
When they were finished Victoria carried her daughter into the bathroom off the dining room to wash her face and then took her back to their bedroom and changed her clothes. The McPheron brothers went upstairs to their rooms and got into town clothes, dark trousers and pale shirts with pearl snaps and their good white hand-shaped Bailey hats. Back downstairs they carried Victoria's suitcases out to the car and set them in the trunk. The backseat was already loaded with boxes of the little girl's clothes and blankets and bedsheets and toys, and a child's padded car seat. Behind the car was the pickup and in its bed, together with the spare tire and the jack and a half dozen empty oil cans and dry wisps of brome hay and a piece of rusted barbed wire, were the little girl's high chair and her daybed, its mattress wrapped in a new tarp, all of it lashed down with orange binder twine.
They returned to the house and came out with Victoria and the little girl. On the porch Victoria paused for a moment, her dark eyes welling with sudden tears.
What's the matter here? Harold said. Is something wrong?
She shook her head.
You know you can always come back. We're expecting you to. We're counting on it. Maybe it'll help to keep that in mind.
It isn't that, she said.
Is it because you're kind of scared? Raymond said.
It's just that I'm going to miss you, she said. I haven't been gone before, not like this. That other time with Dwayne I can't even remember and I don't want to. She shifted the little girl from one arm to the other and wiped at her eyes. I'm just going to miss you, that's all it is.
You can call if you need something, Harold said. We'll still be here at the other end.
But I'm still going to miss you.
Yes, Raymond said. He looked out from the porch toward the barnlot and the brown pastures beyond. The blue sandhills in the far distance low on the low horizon, the sky so clear and empty, the air so dry. We're going to miss you too, he said. We'll be about like old played-out workhorses once you're gone. Standing around lonesome, always looking over the fence. He turned to study her face. A face familiar and dear to him now, the three of them and the baby living in the same open country, in the same old weathered house. But you think you can come on? he said. We probably ought to get this thing started if we're going to.
Raymond drove her car with Victoria sitting beside him so she could reach into the back and tend to Katie in her padded chair. Harold followed them in the pickup, out the lane onto the gravel county road, headed west to the two-lane blacktop, then north toward Holt. The country both sides of the highway was flat and treeless, the ground sandy, the wheat stubble in the flat fields still bright and shiny since its cutting in July. Beyond the barrow ditches the irrigated corn stood up eight feet tall, darkly green and heavy. The grain elevators in the distance showed tall and white in town beside the railroad tracks. It was a bright warm day with the wind coming hot out of the south.
In Holt they turned onto US 34 and stopped at the Gas and Go where Main Street intersected the highway. The McPherons got out and stood at the pumps, gassing up both vehicles as Victoria went in to buy them cups of coffee and a Coke for herself and a bottle of juice for the little girl. Ahead of her in line at the cash register a heavy black-haired man and his wife were standing with a young girl and a small boy. She had seen them walking at all hours along the streets of Holt and she had heard the stories. She thought that if it weren't for the McPheron brothers she might be like them herself. She watched as the girl moved to the front of the store and took a magazine from the rack at the plateglass windows and flipped through it with her back turned away as if she were not related in any manner to the people at the counter. But after the man had paid for a box of cheese crackers and four cans of pop with food stamps, she put the magazine back and followed the rest of her family out the door.
When Victoria came out, the man and the woman were standing in the tarred parking lot deciding something between themselves. She couldn't see the girl or her brother, then turned and saw they were standing together at the corner under the traffic light, looking up Main Street toward the middle of town, and she went on to where Raymond and Harold were waiting for her at the car.
It was shortly after noon when they drove down the ramp off the interstate and into the outskirts of Fort Collins. To the west, the foothills rose up in a ragged blue line obscured by yellow smog blown up from the south, blown up from Denver. On one of the hills a white A was formed of whitewashed rocks, a carryover from when the university's teams were called the Aggies. They drove up Prospect Road and turned onto College Avenue, the campus was all on the left side with its brick buildings, the old gymnasium, the smooth greens lawns, and passed along the street under the cottonwoods and tall blue spruce until they turned onto Mulberry and then turned again and then located the apartment building set back from the street where the girl and her daughter would now live.
They parked the car and the pickup in the lot behind the building, and Victoria went in with the little girl to find the apartment manager. The manager turned out to be a college girl not unlike herself, only older, a senior in sweatshirt and jeans with her blonde hair sprayed up terrifically on her head. She came out into the hallway to introduce herself and began at once to explain that she was majoring in elementary education and working as a student teacher this semester in a little town east of Fort Collins, talking without pause while she led Victoria to the second-floor apartment. She unlocked the door and handed over the key and another one for the outside door, then stopped abruptly and looked at Katie. Can I hold her?
I don't think so, Victoria said. She won't go to everybody.
The McPherons brought up the suitcases and the boxes from the car and set them in the small bedroom. They looked around and went back for the daybed and high chair.
Standing in the door, the manager looked over at Victoria. Are they your grandfathers or something?
Who are they? Your uncles?
What about her daddy then? Is he coming too?
Victoria looked at her. Do you always ask so many questions?
I'm just trying to make friends. I wouldn't pry or be rude.
We're not related that way, Victoria said. They saved me two years ago when I needed help so badly. That's why they're here.
They're preachers, you mean.
No. They're not preachers. But they did save me. I don't know what I would've done without them. And nobody better say a word against them.
I've been saved too, the girl said. I praise Jesus every day of my life.
That's not what I meant, Victoria said. I wasn't talking about that at all.
The McPheron brothers stayed with Victoria Roubideaux and the little girl throughout the afternoon and helped arrange their belongings in the rooms, then in the evening took them out to supper. Afterward they came back to the rented apartment. When they were parked in the lot behind the building they stood out on the pavement in the cool night air to say good-bye. The girl was crying a little again now. She stood up on her toes and kissed each of the old men on his weathered cheek and hugged them and thanked them for all they had done for her and her daughter, and they each in turn put their arms around her and patted her awkwardly on the back. They kissed the little girl. Then they stood back uncomfortably and could not think how to look at her or the child any longer, nor how to do much else except leave.
You make sure to call us, Raymond said.
I'll call every week.
That'll be good, Harold said. We'll want to hear your news.
Then they drove home in the pickup. Heading east away from the mountains and the city, out onto the silent high plains spread out flat and dark under the bright myriad indifferent stars. It was late when they pulled into the drive and stopped in front of the house. They had scarcely spoken in two hours. The yardlight on the pole beside the garage had come on in their absence, casting dark purple shadows past the garage and the outbuildings and past the three stunted elm trees standing inside the hogfencing that surrounded the gray clapboard house.
In the kitchen Raymond poured milk into a pan on the stove and heated it and got down a box of crackers from the cupboard. They sat at the table under the overhead light and drank down the warm milk without a word. It was silent in the house. There was not even the sound of wind outside for them to hear.
I guess I might just as well go up to bed, Harold said. I'm not doing any good down here. He walked out of the kitchen and entered the bathroom and then came back. I guess you've decided to sit out here all night.
I'll be up after a while, Raymond said.
Well, Harold said. All right then. He looked around. At the kitchen walls and the old enameled stove and through the door into the dining room where the yardlight fell in through the curtainless windows onto the walnut table. It feels empty already, don't it.
Empty as hell, Raymond said.
I wonder what she's doing now. I wonder if she's all right.
I hope she's sleeping. I hope her and that little girl are both sleeping. That'd be the best thing.
Yes, it would. Harold bent and peered out the kitchen window into the darkness north of the house, then stood erect. Well, I'm going up, he said. I can't think what else I'm suppose to do.
I'll be up shortly. I want to sit here a while.
Don't fall asleep down here. You'll be sorry for it tomorrow.
I know. I won't. Go ahead on. I won't be long.
Harold started out of the room but stopped at the door and turned back once more. You reckon it's warm enough in that apartment of hers? I been trying to think. I can't recollect a thing about the temperature in them rooms she rented.
It seemed like it was warm enough to me. When we was in there it did. If it wasn't I guess we'd of noticed it.
You think it was too warm?
I don't guess so. I reckon we'd of noticed that too. If it was.
I'm going to bed. It's just goddamn quiet around here is all I got to say.
I'll be up after a bit, Raymond said.
Reading Group Guide
The National Bestseller from the Author of PLAINSONG
“Possesses the haunting appeal of music, the folksy rhythms of an American ballad and the lovely, measured grace of an old hymn.” —The New York Times Book Review
The introduction, discussion questions, and suggestions for further reading that follow are designed to enliven your group’s discussion of Eventide, Kent Haruf’s moving follow-up to his acclaimed novel Plainsong. Set in the cattle country of the high plains, in and just outside of Holt, Colorado, Eventide tells the story of the McPheron brothers, Harold and Raymond, two elderly bachelor-ranchers, and the rich cast of characters who surround them.
1. Two elderly bachelors living on an isolated ranch in eastern Colorado—not what one would immediately consider an exciting premise for a work of fiction. How does Kent Haruf transform the mundane materials of his characters and setting into such an emotionally compelling story?
2. If you have read Plainsong, in what ways does Eventide deepen readers’ relationships with those characters who also inhabit Haruf’s previous novel? How are the two novels alike? In what ways are they significantly different?
3. What kind of men are Harold and Raymond McPheron? What are their most distinctive and appealing characteristics? What makes them so likable?
4. Why does Haruf interweave, in alternating chapters, the stories of the McPheron brothers and Victoria Roubideaux, Luther and Betty Wallace and Rose Tyler, Hoyt Raines, DJ Kephart and his grandfather, and Mary Wells and her daughters? How are their lives interconnected? In what ways do they represent a wide spectrum of American society?
5. When Tom Guthrie and his sons finish separating the cows and their calves, Ike Guthrie says, “They make an awful lot of noise. . . . They don’t seem to like it much.” To which Tom replies, “They never do like it. . . . I can’t imagine anything or anybody that would like it. But every living thing in this world gets weaned eventually” [p. 155]. How does this statement illuminate the central themes of Eventide? In what ways is the novel about the pain of separation, of getting “weaned”?
6. Haruf’s writing, like the speech of the characters he writes about, is restrained, as when Raymond calls Victoria to tell her of Harold’s death:
Honey, I got something to tell you.
Oh, no, she said. Oh no. No.
I’m just afraid I do, he said. And then he told her [p. 80].
Why does Haruf end the conversation there? Why is it more moving to let the reader imagine the rest of the conversation than to describe it more completely? Where else in the novel does Haruf show this kind of reserve?
7. When Del Gutierrez tells Raymond that he can’t see how just one man can run the ranch—“It seems like too much for one person to do”—Raymond responds, “What else you going to do?” [p. 233]. How does this response typify Raymond’s attitude about life and his own predicament?
8. When Raymond worries that they might have to wait until seven-thirty to have dinner, Rose says, “You wouldn’t do very well in New York or Paris, would you,” and Raymond replies: “I wouldn’t even do very good in Fort Morgan” [p. 255]. Why wouldn’t Raymond do well in a big city? In what ways is he suited to, and a product of, the rural life of the high plains?
9. Why has Haruf included a character like Hoyt Raines in the novel? What does he add to the emotional texture of the book?
10. Parent-child relationships are important in Eventide. What kinds of behavior does the novel dramatize between parents (or grandparents or surrogate parents) and children? How are children seen and treated by their elders in the book? What are the best and worst examples of parent-child relationships in Eventide?
11. Near the end of the novel, Luther and Betty Wallace’s children are placed in a foster home. Why does the court make this decision? Is it the right one? Does Haruf intend for readers to regard Luther and Betty critically, sympathetically, or with some mixture of feelings?
12. Why is the budding romance between Rose and Raymond so appealing? Why must Raymond be tricked into meeting her? Why are they so drawn to each other?
13. Eventide ends with Raymond and Rose sitting together quietly, “the old man with his arm around this kind woman, waiting for what would come” [p. 300]. Why is this a satisfying way to end the novel? What is likely to come for them? Literary works often imply, if only implicitly, a set of values to live by. What attitudes and values does Eventide seem to hold up for emulation?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This highly and uniqely descriptive work kept me reading from cover to cover. I haven't read this authors work in the past, though I will begin Plainsong next. The way the ending left on a positive note was pleasant though seemed to be a bit weak for me.
This is one of those books that make me proud to be a writer. Not only is his writing nearly perfect in it's precision (not an extra word, not a single imperfect metaphor, every detail exactly chosen), Haruf's compassion, his simplicity, his understanding of the human soul are inspiring. Unlike so many contemporary writers, who expend vast quantities of energy being oh-so-clever, Haruf eschews wit for heart. His characters are glorious -- messy, broken, complicated, kind and cruel, funny, bitter, despairing, rejoicing and utterly complete. These are not people who sit around in cafes discussing the problems of the world; they are people striving, quietly and with enormous dignity, to do the right thing, to be kind, to overcome cruelty. Haruf's portrayal has turned them into my heroes. I can't recommend a better book to to anyone who yearns to be a writer, or who yearns to understand more about what goes on in the hearts and minds of our fellow humans.
I loved revisiting the world of Holt, Colorado, especially the laconic McPherson brothers, who took in pregnant teen Victoria in "Plainsong." The book takes up two years later, as Victoria prepares to depart for college, and the brothers wonder how they'll survive without her daily presence. Life goes on, we meet new characters, and we see new scenes of heartbreak punctuated by lovely moments of human compassion.Haruf's simple, tender style continues in this novel, providing a stark but beautiful backdrop. I agree with sweetsangria that this book has a sad undertone, but all the same it left me feeling some hope for the futures of each of the characters who had grasped my heart so completely. I hope that Haruf gives us another chance to visit Holt.
The elderly McPheron brothers, Harold and Raymond, are reclusive cattle farmers who have turned their long-ordered lives around by taking in young, single and pregnant Victoria Roubideaux. Now, when she and her small daughter have moved out so she can attend college, they notice how quiet and empty their existence was. But when a tragedy upends Raymond's life, he finds himself open to allowing his life to touch the lives of several other people in this spare, leisurely novel, and late in life he comes to find something about what he has to offer others, and what they have to offer him. A nicely written book that occasionally lags, it comes together in the end in a satisfying way, except that one would wish for some sort of poetic justice for Hoyt Raines, the one malevolent character in the book.
What I like about this book is the way it describes a community, covering a diverse range of situations. It is not unrealistically hpeful about the future. In fact many readers may find that they yearn for a more positive conclusion . . . or even for a conclusion at all! However Haruf recognises that life is not predictable, and that the good intentions of a few people can't always be converted into happy outcomes.
Follow up book to Plainsong. The narrative is slow with very detailed description of the miniature of every day life in a small country town in Colorado, occasionally punctured with scenes of violence. The
Kent Haruf has been compared to John Steibeck. He takes a simple community in northern Colorado, fills it with real life characters and all their flaws, takes the reader through the trials of their lives and surprises us with a kindness that goes beyond our expectations that stays with the reader after the reading is done. I had heard of his books, but hadn¿t had the chance to loose myself in them, and my ignorance led me to the second in a series. I began with Eventide, not knowing that I was in the middle of the story, but now I am glad and I prefer to read it that way. If I had read Plainsong first, I would have had answers to some of the questions the test brought up, but the elements of the characters might not have been as strong had I known everything about them to begin with.As I read the story, it seemed to be centered around two old brothers, alone in the world, except for each other and not too unhappy about their circumstances. But the story can be read from any of the characters perspectives; a young boy living with his grandfather, two young girls whose father decides not to return home and whose mother has not determined what to do with that information, from a pretty high school girl with no chance in life, or a family with too little sense to get them through life¿s difficulties to the teachers who become involved in each others lives.
...i was sad when this book was over because the characters would no longer be in my life.... that, to me, is the sign of a irreplaceable book....gorgeously understated lives that the author so generously allows you to be a part of...FAVORITE QUOTE: "Then I guess I'll call you." Then I guess I'll be waiting. "Ma'am, I'll be waiting myself", Raymond said.
Beautifully written sequel to Plainsong. I was so happy to find this. I was missing the characters from Plainsong so much. It was a bittersweet reunion for me.
EVENTIDE takes up where Kent Haruf's bestseller PLAINSONG left off. The McPeheron brothers see Victoria leave for college. A young boy taking care of this grandfather helps the daughters of a neighbor whose husband isn't coming home from Alaska. And a disabled couple struggles to raise their two children. Soon the lives of these people become intertwined, making for a satisfying read.
This book follows the story of the two old bachelor farmers who stole the show in Haruf's earlier book, Plainsong. Haruf writes wonderful scenes, & these characters are ones to love, but the other two side stories are less appealing & don't add up to much beyond the individual scenes.
A story with heart. The characters span the generations and the author empathizes with them and brings them to life. Highly recommended. If you haven't read Plainsong yet, be sure to read that first though you can start with this sequel and it will be a complete experience also.
Such a talented author. Read everything you can by Kent Haruf.
Being raised in a small town in Illinois was much like being raised in Holt, Colorado. Therefore, I feel I know all the characters that rise up like unforgettable memories in Mr. Haruf's Eventide. The story and the people are dear and captivating. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading and loves to get lost in a book that can't be put down. I would also recommend the book for book club discussions.
After reading Plainsong I had to follow it up with Eventide--the characters became "friends", and I had to know what happened to them. The books are beautifully written in a quiet voice and I was unable to put them down. I will definitely be reading more of Mr. Haruf's works.
I kept waiting for a connection between the different plot lines and it never happened.
The characters are so real and the story stays with you. There is something soulful and poetic in Mr. Haruf's writing.
Technically a sequel to Plainsong but with a very different feel. Where Plainsong was haunting and spare this one reads a bit more like a Richard Russo small town saga. Enjoyable enough but not magical.