“So the truth was he was dying.”

Carol Luers EymanYou would expect reading 257 pages about a dying old man’s last months to be depressing.

You would expect his stream-of-consciousness memories of 80 years in a remote Colorado town to be boring.

And in the hands of another novelist, you would be right.

But not when that novelist is Kent Haruf.

Benediction book jacket

Benediction by Kent Haruf. Available from the library in hardcover and downloadable audio.

True confession:
I hesitated to check out Benediction, passing it by on our New Fiction shelves for several weeks. Having consumed all of Haruf’s previous books (Plainsong, Eventide, The Tie That Binds, and Where You Once Belonged), did I really want to read more of the same?

But that was a moment of madness. I had forgotten his serene prose, his ability to evoke a mood, to paint characters who surprise you.

By page 5, we know how the story ends:

“So the truth was he was dying. That’s what they were saying. He would be dead before the end of summer. By the beginning of September the dirt would be piled over what was left of him out at the cemetery three miles east of town. Someone would cut his name into the face of a tombstone and it would be as if he never was.”

The real story here is not the demise of “Dad” Lewis (oddly, everyone in town calls him “Dad”) but the life that got him to this point–the hardware store he’s owned for 60 years, the neighbor woman and her eight-year-old granddaughter Alice who’s just moved in next door, and most touchingly, the tenderness of his wife, Mary, as she sees him through his final weeks.

A slow reveal
Haruf’s technique is first to draw those simple pictures, almost stereotypes, of rural life, then later to peel them away to reveal the drama behind them. At the hardware store, an employee Dad fired for stealing later committed suicide, and Dad assuaged his guilt by secretly supporting the widow and children for years. Alice’s caution around Dad’s illness, it turns out, has to do with witnessing her mother’s recent demise from breast cancer. Mary wants to spend all her time with her husband in his dying days, except for the day she steals off to Denver, searching for their estranged son.

If you like the way you feel reading the short stories of Alice Munro or Snow Falling on Cedars, don’t pass by Benediction when you’re browsing our shelves.

Carol Luers Eyman is the outreach and community services coordinator at the Nashua Public Library, where she handles publicity and marketing, plans adult programs, and works with community groups. She has a master’s degree in education and a certificate in technical communication. 

 

About Carol Luers Eyman

Carol Luers Eyman is the outreach and community services coordinator at the Nashua Public Library. After graduating from Kirkland College, she earned a master’s of education and a certificate in technical communication from the University of Massachusetts.

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