If requested, I would be more than satisfied with a six-word review of Kent Haruf’s latest novel: I wish BENEDICTION would never end. This is the Colorado author’s fifth foray into the fictional high plains community of Holt, Colorado. In each book, Haruf portrays citizens living graceful but normal lives, exhibiting an inherent goodness that transforms and lifts readers with a spirit of humanity not usually found in fiction.
In the opening scene, readers meet Dad Lewis, whose life and death are the foundations of BENEDICTION. Lewis is informed by his Denver physician that the cancer attacking his body cannot be defeated. Dad takes the news with equanimity. As he and his wife Mary return to Holt, he asks her to drive. “Are you feeling so bad Honey?” Mary asks. “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.” Coming to grips with death is the book's poignant message.
"BENEDICTION captures the full meaning of life by representing its many stages through the eyes and thoughts of the denizens of Holt. With insight and compassion, Kent Haruf paints an indelible word portrait that readers will not soon forget."
Dad is the center of Haruf’s universe in BENEDICTION. As he contemplates his final days, we meet others in the Holt community whose paths cross with him --- sometimes briefly and sometimes for decades. Each will leave a mark on the life and death of Dad, a simple man who for a half-century ran a simple hardware store in a simple small Colorado community.
The Lewis family will bear the brunt of the burdens of Dad's final days. Mary cares for him and serves as a gatekeeper to those in the community seeking to pay respects. But she has an additional mission --- she would like to locate their son Frank, who long ago left the community in order to seek a life more in keeping with his own desires. Dad and Mary’s daughter, Lorraine, comes back to Holt to be with her parents. Her return is not without difficulty as Dad plans for her to assume control over the hardware store, a decision that will have significant impact on both his family and his business.
The hardware store is more than a business to Dad; it has shaped his life for good and for ill. He visits for a final time and sits outside in the car watching the routine activities of the business. It is too much for him to bear because “It was my life I was watching there. The little bit of commerce between me and another fellow on a summer morning at the front counter. Exchanging a few words. Just that. And it wasn’t nothing at all.”
Alice, the orphaned child living next door to Dad, knows far too well the scourge of cancer; The eight-year-old child has experienced the death of her mother from breast cancer. In her discussions with Dad, she represents another stage of life, overcoming grief with child-like innocence. Holt’s newly arrived minister seeks to comfort Dad but finds himself confronting his own personal challenges in raising his son and facing a congregation angered by a Sunday sermon that is somewhat more than they are willing to hear.
BENEDICTION captures the full meaning of life by representing its many stages through the eyes and thoughts of the denizens of Holt. With insight and compassion, Kent Haruf paints an indelible word portrait that readers will not soon forget.
Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman on March 1, 2013