Monday, November 15, 2010

Kent Haruf

I've recently finished Eventide, by Kent Haruf. It's a companion piece to his earlier Plainsong. Both are set in small town Colorado, in contemporary times. Haruf is a master of subtle layering (and unpeeling of those layers) of character through a cool, controlled voice in Third Person Limited.

This pair of novels functions as a clinic in how to use Third Person Limited (almost Camera Eye) Point of View to do the paradoxical, to get right inside character. In this mode of POV half the work is done by the author and half by the reader (guided by the author's prompts.) That balance is critical. What is shown and not explained is what's most important. There's no emoting on the page, not even in dialogue (as these are tight-lipped, plain spoken rural people and Haruf is authentic in his evocation of their speech.) The author writes what he sees, and describes situations that have emotional power and resonance in them, but he leaves the prose plain, to force the reader to confront that emotionality themselves. The reader is propelled to inhabit the characters, to watch for their nuances of gesture, to see and feel and come to know them within the context of their world and their relationships. To learn of their lives and struggles from often small but significant details, piled layer upon layer. Much as we do in the walk-around world.

If you haven't already, read these two books.


  1. Hi James, great description of Haruf's style... I'm reading Eventide at the moment. In a weird way, it's reminding me a little of Maile Meloy in the way it seems at first to be such 'straighforward' writing, but is actually so rich and layered.

  2. That's partly the power of it, that it seems more straightforward than it actually is. Or that its apparent simplicity of style allows us to see and ponder the complexity of emotions and character insight. In that space the author leaves, the reader can become part of the storytelling process, which is a triangle: the characters' story, the author's story, the reader's story.