on 8 April 2013
This is a novel where very little happens. There are no wars, no gunfights, no sex scenes, no murders or robberies or explosions, physical or emotional. But there is a quiet summer afternoon swimming in the water tower. There is the hesitant farewell visit by old employees of Dad's store. There are church services, temporarily lost children, disappointed faces. There are women and men, all equally well-drawn, all equally created with sensitivity, wisdom and humour. This is a novel of real lives truly lived in a fictional America which is more real in the consciousness of Americans than the one that really does exist. I think of Haruf's novels as portrayals of the tranquil majesty of regular lives. There is such truth in his voice, such beauty in his words that I find myself getting quite emotional just thinking about it.
Benediction completes a trilogy which is, I believe, one of the great creations of contemporary American fiction. I don't think there's much more I can say about it than that.
In Holt, Colorado, 77 year old hardware store owner Dad Lewis is dying. Now is the time for final visits to local places that mean so much to him; a time to reconsider key moments in his life, a time to ensure all is sorted. A time too for regrets, hallucinations increasing as the end draws near. Loyal wife Mary, herself frail, tends his needs, as does daughter Lorraine. Neighbours rally round. Noticeably absent is estranged son Frank. Exactly what happened all those years ago?
So many characters are vividly portrayed with words used sparingly, their lives and aspirations laid bare. Amongst them is preacher Lyle, himself at a turning point. Congregations have been outraged when reminded what Christ's teaching means in practical terms. They want rid.
I know nothing of Kent Haruf's earlier work, an omission clearly needing to be remedied. Here is a tale evocatively told and hauntingly sad, the style direct and totally involving. We are intimately present at a dying and a death - only to be reminded that this, at the time so important, is but a very minor matter in the overall scheme of things.
The ordinary has been pinpointed and elevated into something special.
In this one particular long, hot summer in Holt, Colorado, this novel tells of seventy seven year old Dad Lewis who has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Looked after tenderly by his adoring wife and loyal daughter this novel reveals his thoughts, regrets, heartbreak and memories of his life, in particular his estrangement from his gay son who left home as soon as he possibly could and whom his family hasn’t seen for years, so great was the family rift. Ghosts from his past also visit his dreams as he searches for resolutions and peace from past mistakes and decisions he has lived to regret.
He endures visits from neighbours, friends, his employees, the local pastor, the hospice nurse; all gathering around his deathbed to offer their support, affection, compassion, goodbyes and friendship. But, although the subject of impending death is unquestionably sad, this novel rises above that, and, by the addition of other new characters, examines the joy and hope that Daisy, the young grandchild of Dad Lewis’ neighbour brings to the wider community with her fresh young experiences. Another character new to the neighbourhood is Reverend Rob Lyle, who has a crisis within his ministry and is also dealing with a very troubled son and deeply unhappy wife, whilst experiencing problems within his congregation. Humour is injected into scenes as well, which lightens such a dark and sad story.
This is the third and final novel in the evocative and wonderful Plainsong trilogy.
And that's pretty damn good. I have been waiting for a few years for this one and it has been well worth the wait. In his beloved small Colorado home town Dad Lewis is dying. Dad the local hardwear store owner is respected with great affection by fellow citizens and as his light fades he recalls sometimes to himself and sometimes with his loving wife of many years and his adult daughter episdodes of a decent well lived life. He was no saint, just an average guy making the most of the hand he had been dealt. As his wife, daughter and close friends do all that they can to make his final days comfortable and happy, there is always a dark cloud over him as he ponders the estrangement of their only son, whose only crime was being gay in a less enlightened time. Could he, a kind man, who helped many have done more for his son. In his last few days as he puts the final touches to his affairs, this thought haunts him. If they could find him would he want to see his dying father. As he nears his end we wonder: will we meet this now middle aged man and will there be forgiveness all round ?
Perhaps I have made this sound totally gloomy and sad, but it is not. There are plenty light hearted passages like the three generations of "girls" deciding on a sweltering hot day to strip naked and go skinning dipping in the cattle water tank. We also get glimpses of family life behind closed doors as the preacher and his wife struggle to hold their marriage together, not helped by the love life of their teenage son. The town turns on the Rev. Rob Lyle as his honest preaching rocks their comfortable boat. He is sacked, but Dad Lewis true to his principles to the end demands that he takes his funeral and if no church will allow in the Rev. Lyle then the services will be in the Lewis garden.
No one captures the humanity of ordinary people better than Kent Haruf. He writes with a beautiful economical style which again captivated me from page one.
Buy it and you are in for a rare treat.
This is the third volume in the author’s Plainsong Trilogy (see my reviews of the first two volumes, Plainsong and Eventide). I have to warn readers of this review that the marketing of this book as part of the Plainsong Trilogy is misleading: although the cast in the first two volumes is not identical, the central character in each of these are the lovable old McPheron brothers, and I hoped that the surviving brother Raymond would still figure in this volume. But he had died some time ago and there are only a couple of oblique references to him (he is not even named) and to one other character in Eventide. What links the three novels is simply that the story is set in the little township of Holt in Colorado - but then that is also the setting of of Haruf’s next (and last, posthumously published) novels, Our Souls at Night (see my review), which is not part of the trilogy. So that was something of a disappointment.
I found it a little disappointing in other ways as well: the story moves back and forward in time; he has added another mannerism to the absence of speech marks: most chapters begin with “he” or “she” and it takes a moment to find out to whom the pronoun refers.
The central character in this volume is 77 year old “Dad” Lewis who, we are told right at the beginning, had cancer and would not have long to live. He is stoical about that, and the long scene at the end is very moving. He had been looked after by his wife Mary and his daughter Lorraine. Lorraine has had a tragedy, and her brother Frank had left the family some years ago and hasn’t been in touch with his parents since. It takes some time before we find out what the tragedy was and why Frank had run away.
Several other neighbours in Holt visit “Dad” and do what they can to help: the new clergyman, the Rev. Lyle, who will upset his congregation and even his wife and son; Willa Johnson and her unhappy middle-aged daughter Alene; Berta May and her eight year-old grand-daughter Alice. Each have their own stories, some mundane, some sad (there is a lot of sadness in these lives), some dramatic; but I felt that the fact that they all visited “Dad” Lewis is not enough to give the novel unity, and some of the incidents in them are rather inconsequential. And as the story didn’t entirely grip me, the minute descriptions of every movement the characters make and of every street they drive or walk along, which had been a feature of the earlier books also, became a little irritating also. And I can’t think that its title is very appropriate.
If this review seems rather negative, it is because I had expected this novel to be as good as its two predecessors. But the book is still eminently readable, and its characters will remain in my memory for a long time.
This is the type of book that you hug to your breast when you close it. You never want to give it away or lend it out, it's just too precious.
It is a short book, written at a gentle pace, as one day follows another throughout a hot summer in Holt, Colorado. Although it is the last of Haruf's trilogy about the characters in this town, it is set many years later, so the story is as fresh as the newcomers to the town, with minimal references to previous characters.
Although when I began to read I hoped to learn the fate of old characters, after a few pages I was completely engrossed in the new ones.
It is such a moving book I read it with a box of tissues on one side--but some of the tears were of laughter--and a packet of comforting chocolate biscuits on the other side.
The essence is the events of the last weeks of Dad Lewis's life and his memories, his regrets, his loves and losses and how (like most people) he acted for the best at the time. It isn't in any way morbid. Haruf writes tenderly about natural change and endings--relationships/ideas and prejudices/ways of life and life itself.
His prose is some of the best I have read---he notices minutiae, from the manure on the concrete around a cattle trough to the string of lights drooping above the cars in a car lot, to the way sick people study the front and back of their hands.
His choice of words hits you as exactly right. When a boy is crying because his girlfriend is dumping him, she tells him not to live in the past. He is "dreaming backwards". What a great expression.
This book will stand alone as a marvellous read,but I urge you to buy the Trilogy and everything else by this magical man.
on 14 August 2014
This is an almost perfect finish to the trilogy (assuming that this is the final installment).
'Almost' because, unlike the first two books which gave some continuity via the characters, this book has a completely new set. The other minus is that the atmosphere of the landscape (so central to the earlier books) is lacking; this is an almost entirely character-driven story.
I still give this 5 stars because the characters are fantastic, the story wonderful and uplifting (without resorting to maudlin sentimentality or clichés), and the writing is the best of the three.
If a book leaves me planning to re-read it again very soon (a rare thing), that is a good sign.
on 13 September 2014
Very well written, this novel recounts the last days of Dad Lewis, a small town hardware dealer. By design the story deals with people's everyday lives, and there are no earth-shaking moments. It uses flashbacks to describe the events that have been most important to the main characters, and for this type of story, the technique works well. Having said that, it's all a bit depressing. The slow dying of Lewis, the major mistakes he's made in his life, the bigotry of small town America, and the relentless closed-mindedness of the inhabitants does not make for a fun read. But from a technical perspective, a job well done.
on 30 March 2014
This is a beautiful novel - both in form and content. Set in Holt, Colorado, it tells the story of a small town and its inhabitants.
We follow the last days of 'Dad' Lewis (who is dying of cancer) his family and neighbours. Flashbacks help build the picture. Nothing terribly dramatic happens but 'Benediction' somehow illuminates events that affect most families - birth, death, misunderstandings, love, resentment, unkindness and hope.
The writing is spare - the story mostly told in the dialogue of simple people, no fancy-pants descriptions or complicated language - and it's all the more powerful for that.
Having read Haruf's 'Plainsong' and 'Eventide' (which with 'Benediction' make up the 'Plainsong' trilogy) I cannot recommend this author highly enough both to readers and writers.
It is sadly a rare thing to find a book like this one: a little miracle which is all the more beautiful for its modesty. It tells the tale of Dad Lewis, who is dying of cancer, and his friends and family in his small rural community of Holt, Colorado. It's one of those books where nothing much happens and Haruf doesn't waste a word. He certainly doesn't appear to try and manipulate his reader's emotions and it never feels like he is "steering" the narrative or the readers. Rather, the author acts as an observer and chronicler, telling us a simple and straightforward account of one particular summer in small town America.
"Benediction" will resonate with anyone who has experienced first love, bereavement, faith or a crisis thereof, guilt, redemption or indeed most other things we all encounter at one time or another. It is full of memorable, dignified characters living quietly meaningful lives. And the end, when it inevitably comes, is as devastating as it is beautiful.