Friday, March 22, 2013

Benediction by Kent Haruf

We begin with “Dad” Lewis, owner of a local hardware store, who has just been diagnosed with terminal cancer.  His devoted wife Mary does all that she can to make Dad comfortable.  The book focuses a lot on glimpses into Dad’s past and we see him grapple with events of which he is not proud as he slips in and out of consciousness.  Soon, the couple’s daughter Lorraine arrives from Denver to help her mother.  But there is fourth presence in the house, an elephant in the room that no one wants to discuss.  The Lewis boy, Frank, ran away from home years ago and is a painful memory for all three relatives.  It is this relationship more than any other that plagues Dad’s thoughts in his final weeks.

Next door, a young girl named Alice moves in with her grandmother.  Her mother has recently passed away from cancer.  Alice is a breath of fresh air for all of the Lewis’s and their friends in a painful time though Dad’s condition often reminds her of her mother.  An elderly widow and her daughter, along with Lorraine Lewis take an interest in the motherless girl and she becomes the center of their simple lives.

Across town, the new preacher is dealing with his own demons.  He’s been removed from a big church in Denver and sent to hole-in-the-wall Holt as a sort of punishment for his outspoken ideas.  His teenage son is devastated to have left all of his friends behind and strikes up a tenuous with a local girl before he begins his sophomore year of high school.  His wife is on the brink of leaving due to the shame of having to leave Denver only to end up in a dusty country town.  But Reverend Lyle just can’t keep his opinions to himself; dividing his congregation in two and turning his family relationships to rubble.

Like in Haruf’s past novels, all of his characters’ lives intertwine in a story that gives a glimpse into one corner of life in a small plains town.  It is the austerity of the everyday that makes this novel such an addictive read.  Readers who appreciated the stark beauty of Haruf’s simple prose in novels such as Plainsong and The Tie That Binds will enjoy the new inhabitants of Holt, Colorado that are visited in Benediction. This book is a story of quiet losses.  Of the pain that people live with every day after a loved one passes or disappears from your life.  Of living each day though sadness and grief may be part of every step.  It is a simple story.  And one that is beautiful because of that simplicity.