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Monday, June 10, 2013

Benediction by Ken Haruf

Book Type: Literary fiction, family saga, death and dying

Predictability Factor: Never

Cover Art: He's with the angels now.

Bed/Bride/Bludgeon: Reverend Lyle/Lorraine/Tanya

Character Score: One hundred Mr. Micawbers

What's the Story?: Dad Lewis is in the final grips of cancer.  He reflects back on his life as his family and friends do everything they can to make him comfortable.

X-Factor: Master of Prose

Predictability Factor: Never ever, ever.  That is soooo not what his books are about.

Cover Art: I dunno.  It's a new day, he's in a better place, etc. etc. Most of Haruf's novels have these simple covers with lots of sky or landscape in them.  Whatever.

Bed/Bride/Bludgeon: Maybe if Reverend Lyle was getting laid on a regular basis he wouldn't be such a idiot.  Or rather, he'd keep his stupid trap shut because he doesn't want to rock the boat.  Now I'm not saying that our community leaders  (which pastors obviously are) shouldn't speak up for what they believe.   But when you're in a small, kind of redneck town, you should close your mouth for the sake of your family's safety.  That's all I'm saying.  I love Lorraine.  I just want to hug her and marry her and ride off into the sunset to give her everything she ever wanted.  Tanya is a gross human being.  And a bitch. 

What's the Story?: 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 of 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 a 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 relationship 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 left 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 his previous novels 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.

X-Factor: Kent Haruf is the Master of Prose.  His novel Plainsong is the most beautiful book I have ever read.  If you have not read it, I demand that you do so.  You will not regret it.  Benediction builds on his literary history and opens yet another section of Holt to Haruf's readers.


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