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Benediction
Cover of Benediction
Benediction
Borrow Borrow
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.
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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Excerpts-
  • Chapter 1

    Chapter 1
     
    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?
     
    No.
     
    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...

About the Author-
  • Kent Haruf is the author of five previous novels (and, with the photographer Peter Brown, West of Last Chance). His 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 was also a finalist for the National Book Award, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and the New Yorker Book Award. He died in November 2014, at the age of seventy-one.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    December 24, 2012
    In Holt, the fictional Colorado town where all of Haruf’s novels are set, longtime resident Dad Lewis is dying of cancer. Happily married (he calls his wife “his luck”), Dad spends his last weeks thinking over his life, particularly an incident that ended badly with a clerk in his store, and his relationship with his estranged son. As his wife and daughter care for him, life goes on: one of the Lewises’ neighbors takes in her young granddaughter; an elderly woman and her middle-aged daughter visit with the Lewises, with each other, and with the new minister, whose wife and son are unhappy about his transfer to Holt from Denver. Haruf isn’t interested in the trendy or urban; as he once said, he writes about “regular, ordinary, sort of elemental” characters, who speak simply and often don’t speak much at all. “Regular and ordinary” can equate with dull. However, though this is a quiet book, it’s not a boring one. Dad and his family and neighbors try, in small, believable ways, to make peace with those they live among, to understand a world that isn’t the one in which they came of age. Separately and together, all the characters are trying to live—and in Dad’s case, to die—with dignity, a struggle Haruf (Eventide) renders with delicacy and skill. Agent: Nancy Stauffer Cahoon, Nancy Stauffer Associates.

  • Kirkus

    January 1, 2013
    A meditation on morality returns the author to the High Plains of Colorado, with diminishing returns for the reader. As the cliche has it, Haruf caught lightning in a bottle with his breakthrough novel, Plainsong (2000), an exploration of moral ambiguity in the small community of Holt. With his third novel with a one-word title set in Holt, the narrative succumbs to melodrama and folksy wisdom as it details the death of the owner of the local hardware store, a crusty feller who has seen his own moral rigidity soften over the years, though not enough to accomplish a reconciliation with his estranged son, a boy who was "different" and needed to escape "from this little limited postage stamp view of things. You and this place both." Or so the dying man, known to all as "Dad" Lewis, imagines his son saying, as the possibility of the son's impending return before the father's inevitable death provides a pulse of narrative momentum. Other plotlines intertwine: A minister reassigned from Denver for mysterious reasons has trouble adjusting with his family to small-town Holt; an 8-year-old girl next door, who lost her mother to breast cancer, receives support from a neighboring mother and her adult daughter (single after a scandalous affair); Dad's own daughter has a boyfriend who isn't worthy of her. It's a novel that seems to suggest that it takes a village to raise a dysfunctional family, yet things somehow work themselves out. In a small town, "[n]othing goes on without people noticing," yet they often miss what the outsider minister poetically observes is "[t]he precious ordinary" of life in the community. Or perhaps life in general. The death of Dad has dignity and gravitas, but too much leading up to it seems like contrived plotline filler. Between one character's insistence that "[e]verything gets better" and another's belief that "[a]ll life is moving through some kind of unhappiness," the novel runs the gamut of homespun philosophizing. Even the epiphanies seem like reheated leftovers.

    COPYRIGHT(2013) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Library Journal

    October 1, 2012

    Haruf made his name with the heartfelt Plainsong, a best seller and a finalist for the National Book Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Award. The subsequent Eventide, also a best seller, revisited Plainsong's setting, high-plains Holt, CO. Haruf again returns to Holt but with a new cast, among them Dad Lewis, dying of cancer and comforted by his wife and daughter though still estranged from his son. Then there's the little girl mourning her mother and a new preacher struggling with both his family and his congregation. Bittersweet charm and a big, big tour.

    Copyright 2012 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Booklist

    Starred review from February 1, 2013
    From the terroir and populace of his native American West, the author of Plainsong (1999) and Eventide (2004) again draws a story elegant in its simple telling and remarkable in its authentic capture of universal human emotions. The last, dying days of old Dad Lewis supply the framework for this sober yet reverberant novel. Dad owns a store in a small Colorado town, and his terminal illness draws out the compassion of his adult daughter, whom Dad wants to take over his business upon his imminent passing, and sparks an arousal in his long-devoted wife to seek some degree of resolution to an unhealed family wound. Dad's closing days also stir emotions in other town residents who are in Dad's realm of acquaintances, including the girl who moved in next door to stay with her grandmother and whose memories of her deceased mother remain raw; the new minister in town who suddenly rebels against the reluctance of his congregation to think about new ideas; and a mother and daughter, the former advanced in years and the latter now in middle age, who still confront traits in each other that they would just as soon not see.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2013, American Library Association.)

  • John Freeman, The Boston Globe "His finest-tuned tale yet. . . . There is a deep, satisfying music to this book, as Haruf weaves between such a large cast of characters in so small a space. . . . Strangely, wonderfully, the moment of a man's passing can be a blessing in the way it brings people together. Benediction recreates this powerful moment so gracefully it is easy to forget that, like [the town of] Holt, it is a world created by one man."
  • Dan Cryer, San Francisco Chronicle "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."
  • Ron Charles, Washington Post "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."
  • Harper Barnes, St. Louis Post-Dispatch "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."
  • Mike Fischer, Portland Press Herald "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."
  • Connie Ogle, The Miami 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."
  • Michael D. Langan, The Buffalo News "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."
  • Lisa McLendon, The Wichita Eagle "Quiet, and intimate, and beautiful."
  • Emma Broder, The Chicago Maroon "If Hemingway had had more soul, he would've written a book like Benediction."
  • Kevin Stevens, The Dublin Review of Books "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."
  • Paul Elie, The New York Times Book Review "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."
  • Ben Goldstein, Esquire "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."
  • Karen R. Long, The Cleveland Plain Dealer "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."
  • Bruce Machart, The Houston Chronicle "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."
  • Jason Swensen, Deseret News "Both sad and surprisingly uplifting in its honest and skillful examination of death, families an
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