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Harrison does not shrink from depicting the bloodbath that occurred in Rwanda. A good deal of the killing there involved children, and Harrison's scenes in which chUdren are either victims or perpetrators—or both at once—are surely among the most nightmarish ever written. But whereas a journey into chaos brought out the worst in Conrad's Mr. Kurtz, Hobbs finds, in the midst of all this bloodshed, qualities of decency within himself that he did not know existed. His willingness to risk his own life to save a group of abandoned orphans from a murderous Hutu "theologian" who calls himself Papa Ngiza (Father Darkness) is an act of heroism in a place where few heroes can be found. Perhaps the most satisfying element of The Blood Latitudes, however, is the treatment of the relationship between WiU and Key. One senses early on that Key and WiU belong together, that she would have been better off with him than she would ever be with his son, and that WiU in turn might have been a happier man had he made his life with her rather than with his own wife, Rennie, whom he lived with but never managed to love. Harrison's handling of this relationship, which might have come off as hackneyed in the hands of a lesser writer, is all the more convincing for being so understated . If the rumors that this book was rejected by almost aU of the big New York pubUshers are true, they make for a sad commentary on the state of American publishing. The Blood Latitudes is a masterful novel by a fine writer who has never been better than he is in these pages. (SY) Plainsong by Kent Haruf Knopf, 2000, 301 pp., $24 Kent Haruf's Plainsong, a National Book Award finalist last year, is set in Holt, Colorado, a desolate area of plains and sand hUls. The novel is about Victoria Roubideaux, an unmarried , pregnant seventeen-year-old, and the McPheron brothers, two old cattlemen who take her in. It's the odd mix of characters here, with such radically different backgrounds and needs, that signals the novel's concern with community. This is a story about others and otherness and the necessity of finding a way out of one's own isolation. Rejected by her mother, Victoria is rescued by Maggie Jones, her high school teacher. Having no satisfactory lodgings for her, Maggie looks elsewhere and decides to approach Harold and Raymond McPheron, who Uve seventeen mUes out of Holt. Theti Uves have been restricted to the confines of theti ranch. As Maggie points out, they "need something besides an old red cow to care about and worry over." They need Victoria as much as she needs them. What initially follows for Victoria is a stressful, out-of-synch living arrangement with the soUtary old men— who appear to be obtuse about ordinary conversation, though willing to learn. The McPheron brothers soon become extremely concerned about the health and weU-being of their young charge, especiaUy when she is suddenly missing. It turns out that she has attempted a reunion in Denver with her loser boyfriend, Dwayne. When this relationship fails and Victoria returns to Holt, the 180 · The Missouri Review McPherons take her back and see her through with great dedication and kindness. The novel uses multiple points of view, moving back and forth from Victoria's, to the McPherons', to those of the characters who drive the two subplots. Though these subplots sometimes do more to flesh out the müieu of Holt than to provide support for the principal action, they do strengthen the novel's overaU concern with human isolation. One Une of development concerns Ike and Bobby Guthrie, whose mother, EUa, is chronically depressed, occupying a dark sickroom, and who soon abandons them to move in with her no-nonsense sister in Denver. A visit there over Christmas proves futile when their mother's depression once again overcomes her. Other than theti father, only a dying old lady on their paper route (a temporary stand-in for their mother) and the McPherons—whom they know from working on their cattle ranch—enable the...


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pp. 180-181
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