Monday, May 19, 2014

Love and Life and Death

BenedictionBenediction by Kent Haruf
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"All that we behold is full of blessings." ~Wordsworth

His literary inspirations are Faulkner, Hemingway, and Chekov, and his prose is as beautiful as Hemingway's, if not as action-filled. What Kent Haruf sculpts with his spare, beautiful sentences is the landscape of the heart.  You don't read Haruf for excitement, but for insight.

Haruf has been telling stories of life in the hardscrabble environs of fictional Holt, Colorado, over the course of his literary career. Haruf grew up in the high eastern plains of Colorado, so his Holt is a distillation, the pure essence of the landscape and atmosphere of the non-urban West and the character of its folk. Benediction, his latest novel, has at its center "Dad" Lewis, owner of Holt's hardware store, who's just found out he's going to die soon, before summer is over. And this is life and death in Holt, Colorado.

Lorraine, the daughter, comes home to help. Their son, Franktook himself off years ago. That's probably Dad's greatest regret. But his and Mary’s love has lasted through their marriage. He believes she’s everything good that ever happened to him. There's another father and son in the story, Holt's new preacher, Rev. Lyle, has been sent out of Denver because he stood up for a fellow minister. His teenage son has this uprooting and embarrassment to deal with in addition to the tension in his parents' marriage, hormones, and the utter, terrifying culture shock from trendy urban to redneck rural.

Poor Reverend Lyle is discovering that having the courage of his convictions
causes a crisis of faith in others. Neither his superiors nor his parishioners
is really interested in What Would Jesus Do, thank you. And yet even as his life
crumbles in this brief visit to Holt, he is the compassionate center. Across the street from the Lewis family, Berta Mae's eight-year-old granddaughter has had to come live with her after her mom dies of cancer. Another middle aged daughter comes home to companion her mother.

There's sex and violence, remembrances and regrets, secrets and revelations,
tragedies and joys large and small. Love begins, love ends, love goes on. In the meltdown of his career, Holt’s new preacher Rev. Lyle takes to wandering Holt's streets at night, looking into the windows of its houses, expecting to see scenes of familial and societal breakdown--a mirrored apocalypse. Instead he sees tenderness and love, "the precious ordinary," he tells the unsympathetic cops.

“Love is the most important part of life, isn’t it. If you have love you can live in this world in a true way and if you love each other you can see past everything and accept what you don’t understand and forgive what you don’t know or don’t like.” Lyle expresses this to a young couple—and Haruf makes us wonder—what is it in us that holds us to hardness? How can we extend our love better?

I don’t know whether it’s the more contemporary setting, or the lack of closure that death brings, but I prefer the earlier novels, Plainsong and Eventide.  Nevertheless, Haruf’s tender truthtelling is always a pleasure.

I think I got this book from a giveaway, but it had no paperwork, so I might have bought it. Thanks, Vintage, anyway!

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