Benedictionby Kent Haruf
When Dad Lewis is diagnosed with terminal cancer, he and his wife, Mary, must work together to make his final days as comfortable as possible. Their daughter, Lorraine/i>/i>
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From the beloved and best-selling author of Plainsong and Eventide comes a story of life and death, and the ties that bind, once again set out on the High Plains in Holt, Colorado.
When Dad Lewis is diagnosed with terminal cancer, he and his wife, Mary, must work together to make his final days as comfortable as possible. Their daughter, Lorraine, hastens back from Denver to help look after him; her devotion softens the bitter absence of their estranged son, Frank, but this cannot be willed away and remains a palpable presence for all three of them. Next door, a young girl named Alice moves in with her grandmother and contends with the painful memories that Dad's condition stirs up of her own mother's death. Meanwhile, the town’s newly arrived preacher attempts to mend his strained relationships with his wife and teenaged son, a task that proves all the more challenging when he faces the disdain of his congregation after offering more than they are accustomed to getting on a Sunday morning. And throughout, an elderly widow and her middle-aged daughter do everything they can to ease the pain of their friends and neighbors.
Despite the travails that each of these families faces, together they form bonds strong enough to carry them through the most difficult of times. Bracing, sad and deeply illuminating, Benediction captures the fullness of life by representing every stage of it, including its extinction, as well as the hopes and dreams that sustain us along the way. Here Kent Haruf gives us his most indelible portrait yet of this small town and reveals, with grace and insight, the compassion, the suffering and, above all, the humanity of its inhabitants.
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"A quiet and profound statement about endings, about change and death and endurance, and about the courage it takes to finally let go. . . . What's remarkable is Haruf's ability, once again, to square quotidian events with what it means to be alive and bound in ordinary pleasure with ordinary people [with] a matter-of-fact tone, with spare declarative sentences and plain-speak among the characters that is, in its bare-bones clarity, often heartbreakingly authentic." —Debra Gwartney, The Oregonian
“What Haruf makes of this patch of ground is magic [and] Benediction spreads its blessing over the entire town. Haruf isn’t interested in evil so much as the frailties that defeat us – loneliness, a failure to connect with one another, the lack of courage to change. . . . [He] makes us admire his characters’ ability not only to carry on but also to enjoy simple pleasures.” —Dan Cryer, San Francisco Chronicle
“We’ve waited a long time for an invitation back to Holt, home to Kent Haruf’s novels. . . He may be the most muted master in American fiction [and] Benediction seems designed to catch the sound of those fleeting good moments [with] scenes Hemingway might have written had he survived.” —Ron Charles, Washington Post
"A lovely book, surprisingly rich in character and event without any sense of being crowded. . . . Haruf is a master in summing up the drama that already exists in life, if you just pay attention." —Harper Barnes, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“Absorbing [and] evocative. . . . Haruf doesn’t offer us any facile reconciliations. The blessings in Benediction are [not] easily won. For that very reason they are all the more believable and all the more unforgettable.” – Richard Wakefield, The Seattle Times
"Splendid. . . . As the expertly crafted structure of Benediction emerges, it becomes clear that [Haruf's many] characters trace the arc of a life. . . as we join [a good but flawed man] in his deepening appreciation for those around him, while counting down the remaining hours, in his life and our own." —Mike Fischer, Portland Press Herald
“Remarkable. . . . Haruf paints indelible portraits of drifting days that reveal unexpected blessings. . . . We may not always recognize the best moments—maybe because they are often as simple as eating off the good china at a backyard picnic—but he understands their power to make us human.” —Connie Ogle, The Miami Herald
"Itself a blessing. . . spare and unencumbered. . . . Haruf's great skill is in describing the plain ways of people who live in small places [and the war] going on between good and evil that we recognize as part of our nature. This is what makes Benediction a universal story, not a hometown tale." —Michael D. Langan, The Buffalo News
“Quiet, and intimate, and beautiful.” —Lisa McLendon, The Wichita Eagle
“If Hemingway had had more soul, he would've written a book like Benediction.” —Emma Broder, The Chicago Maroon
"Incisive, elegiac, and rhetorically rich. . . his finest expression yet of an aesthetic vision that, in spite of its exacting verisimilitude, achieves a mythic dimension rare in contemporary fiction. . . . Haruf's art is rigorous but transparent. Scene after scene, we appreciate that we are in the hands of a master of complex storytelling disguised as simple observation. . . . Reading [him], I am often reminded of the great Russian realists, who have a similar compressed intensity and who spent much of their writing time examining the lives of ordinary people living in small communities in wide-open spaces." —Kevin Stevens, The Dublin Review of Books
“Benediction suggests there’s no end to the stories Haruf can tell about Holt or to the tough, gorgeous language he can summon in the process.” —Paul Elie, The New York Times Book Review
“Haruf is the master of what one of his characters calls 'the precious ordinary'. . . . With understated language and startling emotional insight, he makes you feel awe at even the most basic of human gestures.” —Ben Goldstein, Esquire
“Grace and restraint are abiding virtues in Haruf's fiction, and they resume their place of privilege in his new work. . . . For readers looking for the rewards of an intimate, meditative story, it is indeed a blessing.” —Karen R. Long, The Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Haruf is maguslike in his gifts. . . to illuminate the inevitable ways in which tributary lives meander toward confluence. . . . Perhaps not since Hemingway has an American author triggered such reader empathy with so little reliance on the subjectivity of his characters. . . . [This] is a modestly wrought wonder from one of our finest living writers.” —Bruce Machart, The Houston Chronicle
“Both sad and surprisingly uplifting in its honest and skillful examination of death, families and friendship.” —Jason Swensen, Deseret News
“As Haruf's precise details accrue, a reader gains perspective: This is the story of a man's life, and the town where he spent it, and the people who try to ease its end. . . . His sentences have the elegance of Hemingway's early work [and his] determined realism, which admits that not all of our past actions or the reasons behind them are knowable, even to ourselves, is one of the book's satisfactions.” —John Reimringer, The Minneapolis Star-Tribune
“Reverberant… From the terroir and populace of his native American West, the author of Plainsong and Eventide again draws a story elegant in its simple telling and remarkable in its authentic capture of universal human emotions.” – Brad Hooper, Booklist
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Read an Excerpt
When the test came back the nurse called them into the examination room and when the doctor entered the room he just looked at them and asked them to sit down. They could tell by the look on his face where matters stood.
Go on ahead, Dad Lewis said, say it.
I’m afraid I don’t have very good news for you, the doctor said.
When they went back downstairs to the parking lot it was late in the afternoon.
You drive, Dad said. I don’t want to.
Are you feeling so bad, honey?
No. I don’t feel that much worse. I just want to look out at this country. I won’t be coming out here again.
I don’t mind driving for you, she said. And we can come this way again anytime if you want to.
They drove out from Denver away from the mountains, back onto the high plains: sagebrush and soapweed and blue grama and buffalo grass in the pastures, wheat and corn in the planted fields. On both sides of the highway were the gravel county roads going out away under the pure blue sky, all the roads straight as the lines ruled in a book, with only a few small isolated towns spread across the flat open country.
It was sundown when they got home. By then the air was starting to cool off. She parked the car in front of their house at the west edge of Holt on the gravel street and Dad got out and stood looking for a while. The old white house built in 1904, the first on the street which wasn’t even much of a street then, and still only three or four houses there yet when he bought it in 1948, the year he and Mary were married. He was twenty-two, working at the hardware store on Main Street, then the old lame man who owned it made up his mind to move away to live with his daughter and he offered Dad the option of purchasing it, and he was a known man in town by then, the bankers knew him, and gave him the loan without question. So he was the proprietor of the local hardware store.
It was a frame house sided with clapboard, two-story with a red shingled roof, with an old-fashioned black wrought iron fence around it and an iron gate with spears and hard loops at the top. Out back was an old red barn and a pole corral grown over with tall weeds, and beyond that there was nothing but the open country.
He went inside to the downstairs bedroom to put on old pants and a sweater and came back out and sat down in one of the porch chairs.
She came out to find him. Do you want supper now? I could make you a sandwich.
No. I don’t want anything. Maybe if you could bring me a beer.
You don’t want anything to eat?
You go on ahead without me.
Do you want a glass?
She went inside and returned with the cold bottle.
Thank you, he said.
She went back in. He drank from the bottle and sat looking out at the quiet empty street in the summer evening. The neighbor Berta May’s yellow house next door and the other houses beyond it, running up to the highway, and the vacant lot directly across the street, and the railroad tracks three blocks in the other direction, all of that part of town still empty and undeveloped between his property and the tracks. In the trees in front of the house the leaves were blowing a little.
She brought a tray of crackers and cheese and an apple cut up in quarters and a glass of iced tea. Would you like any of this? She held out the tray to him. He took a piece of apple and she sat down beside him in the other porch chair.
Well. That’s it, he said. That’s the deal now. Isn’t it.
He might be wrong. They’re wrong sometimes, she said. They can’t be so sure.
I don’t want to let myself think that way. I can feel it in me that they’re right. I don’t have much time left.
Oh I don’t want to believe that.
Yeah. But I’m pretty sure -that’s how it’s going to be.
I don’t want you to go yet, she said. She reached across and took his hand. I don’t. There were tears in her eyes. I’m not ready.
I know. . . . We better call Lorraine pretty soon, he said.
I’ll call her.
Tell her she doesn’t have to come home yet. Give her some time.
He looked at the beer bottle and held it in front of him and took a small drink.
I might get me some kind of better grade of beer before I go. A guy I was talking to said something about Belgian beer. Maybe I’ll try some of that. If I can get it around here.
He sat and drank the beer and held his wife’s hand sitting out on the front porch. So the truth was he was dying. That’s what they were saying. He would be dead before the end of summer. By the beginning of September the dirt would be piled over what was left of him out at the cemetery three miles east of town. Someone would cut his name into the face of a tombstone and it would be as if he never was.
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Meet the Author
Kent Haruf’s honors include a Whiting Foundation Writers’ Award, the Mountains & Plains Booksellers Award, the Wallace Stegner Award, and a special citation from the PEN/Hemingway Foundation; he has also been a finalist for the National Book Award, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and the New Yorker Book Award. He lives with his wife, Cathy, in their native Colorado.
- South Central Mountains of Colorado
- Date of Birth:
- February 24, 1943
- Place of Birth:
- Pueblo, Colorado
- B.A., Nebraska Wesleyan University, 1965; M.F.A., Iowa University (Writers' Workshop), 1973
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Benediction could be Kent Haruf's finest novel, yet. Haruf is absolutely gifted when it comes to fleshing out the details and nuances of life in small town Holt, CO. This book gives the reader the opportunity to explore death, life, love, bigotry and small mindedness. This novel is simply sublime.
As a pastor, I have the privilege of giving blessings. This novel reminds us that we bless one another through kind acts, for in doing so we affirm another person's worth as a human. Mary "blesses" the attendant with her note. The pastor "blesses" his assailants by turning the other cheek. Sometimes, sadly, opportunities for "blessing" another person, and the positive ripple effects, are passed by. The most blessed benediction is to end life surrounded by loved ones and to die in/with/at peace. A lovely novel.
I have read all of Kent Haruf's books and they are all wonderful. I like his style of writing that lets you just sit back and enjoy the story and picture the characters, without alot of confusing dialog, too many names to remember, and impossible to imagine situations. He simply tells a wonderful story with people in the story that you wish you lived next door to. So many times while reading this I found myself smiling without even realizing it, and sometimes tearful. I read it in 2 days and wish it would have been about a thousand pages longer because I did not want it to end. I will absolutely read it a second time. One of my favorites without a doubt.
Kent Haruf is one of my favorite authors. His spare prose is perfect for the plain, small-town folks who people his novels, and their stories are compelling for all their simplicity. It's giving nothing away to tell you that the main character in "Benediction," Dad Lewis, is dying; he receives the diagnosis on the book's very first page. His reaction, and that of his wife and daughter, make up much of the book. But their friends' lives, and the lives of those with whom they come in contact, also come into play here. And just like anyone else, Dad Lewis has regrets and those come into play here as well. "Benediction" is an unsentimental, yet very moving, depiction of the end of a good man's life. I'd rank it right up there with "Plainsong" as one of Haruf's best books.
This is a quiet, contemplative story about endings, but it isn't a sad tale. Haruf writes in what seems like such a simple way that you are taken on a journey full of meaning without realizing what is happening to you as you read. I have enjoyed all his books in this trilogy, but perhaps this one even more than the others.
This is the 3rd and probably last story about Holt and the people on the high plains. A story about complicated lives in an uncomplicated place. Haruf reminds us our own lives are both fragile and durable at the same time and in the end life goes on. A few light moments and lots of tears in this one.
I think this book is exceptionally well written, with great attention to accurate, and very real, details. I found his dialogue interesting as there are no quotation marks; I had to stay alert to who was saying what. I will be reading more of Kent Haruf's works.
a sweet book. The story of life that a lot of people can relate to. This is the first book I have read by this author, but I will read more.
I love the way Haruf writes, and his insight into human behavior is remarkable.
Simply wonderful. You will want to read everything this masterful storyteller has published.
So touching and heartfelf. Beautifully written.
Haruf again is able to make you understand his characters,their lives and deaths. He portrays common people who are dealing with everyday things in their lives. This story is poignant and a wonderful read.
Kent Haruf is one of the premier writers of today. His series of books, starting with "Plainsong" are so well written. I would suggest reading his books in order of publication as they are connected.
This novel slows you down and let's you sink into the life of an American community which still carries the values of the past as well as the present. The writing is spare and economical but transcends the vernacular of the Colorado townspeople with a poetic grace. Reading it is like a meditation.