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Plainsong and my heart.

You ever set a book down in the middle, close your eyes and think, "No--please. It's too much. Please, just stop now."

It doesn't happen to me often. Usually I put a book down because it's not enough; there's a vacant place inside me waiting to be filled by a two-hundred page dose of fire, and the book in question isn't gonna cut it. As long as a novel gives me what I need--true, blistering characters, enough plot to keep the pages turning, a way of pairing words that makes me stop and think--I'll steel myself to warrior strength and accept whatever suffering it throws my way.

But right now I'm reading Plainsong, by Kent Haruf. It's exquisite. It makes me feel so deeply. Part of it is personal: there is a pregnant girl, there are children losing their mother, there are young cows moaning through birth and horses kicking themselves in pain. I have raw feelings about all of these things. But also, it's the starkness of the landscape, and the haunting language Haruf uses to describe it. The "flower spikes of the soapweed stuck up like splintered sticks, the seed pods dry and dark-looking against the winter grass." The "old fallen-in homestead house, where there was an old gray barn and broken windmill and the few low trees were dark against the dark sky and where the night wind came in through the open car windows smelling of sage and summer grass." Everything in this novel is bleak and beautiful, and I don't know if it's the beauty or the bleakness that, after just over two hundred pages, is carving holes in my chest.

I wanted the holes filled. I didn't want more holes. This is the dazed, tearful thing I think as I wrench my eyes finally from the page and get up to make myself something to eat.

And yet, when I sit back down twenty minutes later, what I mostly feel is gratitude. So I'm aching. So I'm more hollow than full, more urgently in search of warmth than I was before I started reading. Here's the thing: so are they, all these characters I've come to love. Ike and Bobby, who want their mother home; pregnant Victoria, who wants a home; old Raymond and Harold McPheron who are trying to give her one. It's amazing how much we can want things and come up short. It's amazing how a field doused in wildflowers can erase itself to white over the course of a season, suddenly keep nothing alive. Amazing that we're all still trying to kindle happiness, and amazing that Haruf wrote a book that sent me headfirst into lonely grief, only to somehow keep me company in that journey, bring me back after a break and settle me down again, remind me, It's not all over yet. Keep reading.

So I open the book again, and plunge back in, prepared for pain, hoping for human connection, and wishing, at the end of it all, for a little bit of warmth that stays.

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