PLAINS SONG by Wright Morris
Kirkus Star

PLAINS SONG

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Throughout this austere montage of three generations of Nebraska women, Morris' photographic dissolves of ageless landscapes and beautifully desolate figures sift through like acrid prairie winds. Newlywed pioneer-woman Cora walks confidently with her husband Emerson through the high grasses on their way from Ohio to the early 1900s Nebraska homestead shared with Emerson's flighty brother Orion. Husband and wife, like yoked beasts, feelings locked tight, make their gains on the land: for Cora, each day's worth is exactly the sum of chores accomplished. Moreover, along with her own child, cheerful and complaisant Madge, Cora raises Orion's daughter Sharon, whose mother--bright, tatty, gypsyish Belle--dies giving birth to plain Fayrene. So it is through the eyes of Sharon, a musician who leaves home and never marries, that the paradox of change and changelessness is illuminated: the vast sweep of time, the withering-away of a strength that seems to be diluted with generations; but, all the same, the realization that one can never really leave ""the trauma of birth or burial, or mindless attachments of persons and places, kinships, longings, crossing bells, the arc of streetlights or the featureless faces on station platforms."" And one generation later, Madge's daughter Caroline, now herself a mother, will show Sharon the site of Cora's farm--vanished, with Cora's life, into thin air--and will bitterly contemplate Cora's blank acceptance of a life of dogged toil unlit by self-knowledge. (When elderly Cora had her picture taken, ""it changed the substance of her life. She was no longer the person she had been, but something more or less."") Morris ponders the evolving consciousness of women here through his favorite juxtapositions--past and present, primitive and civilized, dinosaur bones and football fields: ""the future of man in a world of women. . . the males were gathered in one of their primitive ceremonies, blind as the dinosaurs to what was happening."" So his females, his slumbering giants, are not free-standing beings, but rather caryatids beneath a monument to the American land and its ghosts. Meditative rather than intimate, then, yet a moving and lyrical work nonetheless.

Pub Date: Jan. 9th, 1979
ISBN: 0803282672
Publisher: Harper & Row