Review: Benediction


By Kent Haruf
(Knopf, Hardcover, 9780307959881, Feb 2013, 272pp.)

The Short of It:

A large, yet quiet novel on life and death.

The Rest of It:

This is probably one of the hardest reviews I’ve ever written for this blog because this book was both huge (on many levels) but at the same time almost too quiet for me to even remark on.

The story takes place in the fictional town of Holt, Colorado. Dad Lewis is 77-years-old and has just been diagnosed with cancer. He hasn’t much time left, so his wife Mary is tasked with keeping him comfortable. On the surface, she handles this news the way any good wife would but when she faints from stress and ends up in the hospital for a few days, Dad Lewis is left to fend for himself. During this time, he is looked in on by the neighbor across the way and her young granddaughter. The girl, only 6-years-old is curious about him but also scared of someone as old at him. Especially someone who is dying. But Dad Lewis takes a liking to her. Perhaps it’s her wide-eyed innocence or that she reminds him of his own kids. Nevertheless, he welcomes her visits.

Once Mary is released from the hospital, their daughter Lorraine comes to help but the absence of the estranged son Frank, is felt by everyone, most notably Dad Lewis. Frank’s homosexuality proved to be too much for Dad Lewis to accept but as his days dwindle, Dad Lewis regrets his past actions, only to realize that it’s too late to do anything about them. His emotional pain is most evident during his quiet conversations with the young girl.

There are other players in this story but I was most interested in Dad Lewis and his immediate family. A man coming to terms with his own death is a pretty heavy topic. It’s both sad and enlightening, heartfelt but lonely. As a reader, it’s easy to get caught-up in the day-to-day aspects of pain management, the intake of food, etc. But in between the minutiae, is the fact that this man is spending his last hours appreciating what he has but also regretting what he lost. The loss of time is tragic and it leaves you with a heavy heart, to say the least.

I recommend this book to anyone who has ever questioned their past actions. It’s definitely a book that will make you think and the writing, is at times, breathtakingly beautiful.

Source: Borrowed
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

18 thoughts on “Review: Benediction”

  1. Oh this sounds like a tough one even though it is well done. This topic seems closer at hand for me as my parents age and have health issues (none of which are life threatening). And, my parents aren’t all that old (69 and 74), but still. I’ve been nursing my mom through double pneumonia this week and it definitely makes one think to see one’s parent really sick!

    1. When I got hit last February with that plague I caught, I seriously thought my days were numbered. It’s been years (like 15) since I have gotten sick and boy, being sick at 44 is quite different than being sick in your 20s and 30s. My body just could not get a handle on it. So I can see how falling ill at 60, even though “young”, could take it’s toll. I feel for you. Plus, parents can be so stubborn. They know it all and have their own way of doing things.

  2. I’m not the ideal person to read quiet books. I wish I were, but I struggle with them, and usually need some type of plot or excitement to keep me engaged. Still it sounds like there are important lessons here, and I have to say that I love that title.

    1. I don’t think you could stay still enough to read this one in print. I listened to some of it on audio and it was good.

  3. I read Haruf years ago and loved Plainsong. I’ve been meaning to read more of him too. I love the way he writes about the Midwest. Definitely picking this one up (sometime!)

  4. hmm. This is a good review and makes me interested in reading the novel. I too read Haruf like a decade ago with Plainsong but I dont remember it too well now. But I think he’d be good to read again

  5. I love Haruf. Love him. Unfortunately, this novel is a hard sell. Very hard. As soon as people hear the subject matter they begin bulking. There are some amazing moments in the book. I love the part where the women of all ages strip down and swim.

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