For The Someday Book

Book Review: Benediction

Posted on: March 4, 2015

Benediction by Kent Haruf, Alfred A. Knopf, 2013, 258 pp.

BenedictionThis book came in a big stack of like-new hand-me-downs from my mother-in-law’s next door neighbor. She and I share a love of reading, and she knows my preference for literary fiction and stories about women. This is one of the best ones she has ever passed my way. I’d never heard of Kent Haruf, but I want to hear much more from him.

Benediction is the story of a dying man, Dad Lewis, his wife, his daughter, and the community that holds him in his dying days. The book begins in the doctor’s office with the terminal diagnosis, and follows through until his death. It offers his own perspective, revealing secrets from his life that will remain hidden forever once he dies. Some are guilt-ridden, others are acts of compassion, most are a mix of the two, like the memories of most human lives. The story unpacks the relationship with his wife and daughter and estranged son, sorting through the past and the future that will not be.

Meanwhile, there is a secondary cast of characters–the community around Dad Lewis and his family. There are neighbors and church friends, even the pastor and his family. While Dad Lewis and his family are arrested by death and dying, their lives go on–teens explore sexuality, children enter families, new friendships develop, careers unravel. The world outside the Lewis home goes on without them.

As someone who spends a lot of time with people who are dying and their families, I can testify that this story has a depth of truth and insight into end-of-life situations . From the awkward visits to the easy ones, from the hard truth-telling conversations to the meaningless ones, Haruf captures what it’s like to be with the dying.

The thing that most captivated me, however, was the voice Haruf develops in his writing. It is a sparse style, with much dialogue and little to get in the way. Its descriptions are muted, as though there was a slight haze over everything, which seems entirely appropriate to the situation. The prose is simple, elegant and beautiful.

One of my favorite sections, of course, is from the pastor.

I’m finished as a minister. I haven’t done much good. … People don’t want to be disturbed. They want assurance. They don’t come to church on Sunday morning to think about new ideas or even the old important ones. They want to hear what they’ve been told before, with only some small variation on what they’ve been hearing all their lives, and then they want to go home and eat pot roast and say it was a good service and feel satisfied. (193)

That’s how I feel a lot of the time in ministry, and it felt good to see that named and reflected on the page–however depressing it is.

Benediction is a beautiful novel, and not nearly as melancholy as the topic makes it sound. The characters are endearing and real, so you can imagine them in their town having these conversations with one another. I recommend it highly.

 

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2 Responses to "Book Review: Benediction"

Save this one for me, please. Will trade your Nativity for this book….:)

[…] am fast becoming a leading member of the Kent Haruf fan club. After discovering Benediction not long ago, I was determined to read more of his work. At the library, they all looked so […]

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About Me

I am a full-time pastor in the United Church of Christ, mother of a young child (B.), married to an aspiring academic and curmudgeon (J.). I live by faith, intuition and intellect. I follow politics, football and the Boston Red Sox. I like to talk about progressive issues, theological concerns, church life, the impact of technology and media, pop culture and books.

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