Wayne Booth, 22 May 1980
One of America’s three most important living novelists – I’ll let you name the other two – has just published one of the best of his novels. Unlike any other first-class novel we’re likely to see this year, Plains Song sings of life on the American plains. To sing, in the 1980s, about life on the American plains does not exactly put one into the mainstream of American letters. But the pun in Morris’s title is profoundly right: there is, after all, a ‘mainstream’ more enduring than fashions, and this plainsong laments and celebrates lives which in their frequent losses and occasional joys are far less provincial – well, than whatever novel is busting blocks in the week when this review appears. Because Wright Morris accompanies his characters’ beautiful, spare descants with his own loving reminders of why each transient life embodies permanent meaning, we always know that this is not a ‘regional novel’, just as it is not a satiric rejection, like Flaubert’s, of the customs of the provinces.