Benediction: A Novel

Paperback | November 12, 2013

byKent Haruf

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A Shelf Awareness Best Book of the Year

From the beloved and best-selling author of Plainsong and Eventide comes a story of life and death, and the ties that bind, once again set out on the High Plains in Holt, Colorado.

When Dad Lewis is diagnosed with terminal cancer, he and his wife, Mary, must work together to make his final days as comfortable as possible. Their daughter, Lorraine, hastens back from Denver to help look after him; her devotion softens the bitter absence of their estranged son, Frank, but this cannot be willed away and remains a palpable presence for all three of them. Next door, a young girl named Alice moves in with her grandmother and contends with the painful memories that Dad's condition stirs up of her own mother's death. Meanwhile, the town’s newly arrived preacher attempts to mend his strained relationships with his wife and teenaged son, a task that proves all the more challenging when he faces the disdain of his congregation after offering more than they are accustomed to getting on a Sunday morning. And throughout, an elderly widow and her middle-aged daughter do everything they can to ease the pain of their friends and neighbors.

Despite the travails that each of these families faces, together they form bonds strong enough to carry them through the most difficult of times.  Bracing, sad and deeply illuminating, Benediction captures the fullness of life by representing every stage of it, including its extinction, as well as the hopes and dreams that sustain us along the way. Here Kent Haruf gives us his most indelible portrait yet of this small town and reveals, with grace and insight, the compassion, the suffering and, above all, the humanity of its inhabitants.

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From the Publisher

A Shelf Awareness Best Book of the YearFrom the beloved and best-selling author of Plainsong and Eventide comes a story of life and death, and the ties that bind, once again set out on the High Plains in Holt, Colorado.When Dad Lewis is diagnosed with terminal cancer, he and his wife, Mary, must work together to make his final days as ...

Kent Haruf’s honors include a Whiting Foundation Writers’ Award, the Mountains & Plains Booksellers Award, the Wallace Stegner Award, and a special citation from the PEN/Hemingway Foundation; he has also been a finalist for the National Book Award, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and the New Yorker Book Award.   He lives with his wif...

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:272 pages, 8 × 5.2 × 0.8 inPublished:November 12, 2013Publisher:Knopf Doubleday Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0804172749

ISBN - 13:9780804172745

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Best Books of 2013


Rated 4 out of 5 by from Benediction Good story. Keeps you turning pages to see what happens next. Characters are believable.
Date published: 2014-06-09
Rated 3 out of 5 by from A great read albeit its flaws I'll admit, I bought this book simply because it was an Indigo Spotlight pick and because it was called "The Book of the Year". Also, I'm a sucker for stickers on my books... that's why I buy and read Heather's Picks. Anyways, I really enjoyed this book. It had a fascinating storyline with many interesting family conflicts. I always appreciate novels that deal with the hardships of religion and homosexuality... they are interesting themes for our modern day society. Now, I REALLY did not like the fact that Haruf refused to use quotation marks for dialogue. I mean, really? I could still tell when someone was talking... but it was so distracting. I read it during the Christmas holidays thinking it would be a hopeful and mesmerizing novel... but it was actually really depressing. Also, a lot of the secondary characters remained underdeveloped throughout the novel. The overall message and storyline are still deeply intriguing... but I wouldn't call this the best book of 2013.
Date published: 2014-04-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from ben·e·dic·tion - (noun) the invocation of a blessing I'm always in awe of novels that reverberate across and out of its pages, and go beyond the last words. "Benediction" is one such book that commands attention and deserves respect because of that heavy feeling that sticks to you right from the beginning, and lingers on even when you think you are finished with it. "Benediction" revolves around a handful of characters, each likeable and disagreeable in their own way. As a reader, it feels very much like you've been transported and dropped into the town of Holt to observe an intersection of the varied lives of these characters. You come into the knowledge of one life-altering event for each of them, be it a regrettable action or a love lost, and with just that slice of information, you appear to have known these characters for a time too long to quantify. Kent Haruf treads lightly on the solemn subject matter of the end of life but he never discounts the overwhelming emotions that are part and parcel of the process of death - coming to terms, reflecting on a life lived, and finding redemption, resolution, and tranquility in the final moments. It might seem contradictory how I've used "heavy" and "light" to describe "Benediction," but it's in Haruf's craft of writing that the delicate and tender moments in a difficult time seep through. This is subtlety, filled with elegance and grace. I'm in the mind of poring over Haruf's past works and let myself be swept away by the poignancy of his words and world.
Date published: 2014-03-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the best books I've read in a very long time.
Date published: 2014-01-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Touching. Just finished reading this warm novel.  I still have a tear in the corner of my eye.  There's a little bit of each of us in here among the many characters.  Easy to read and easy to get involved in this book.  I'm sorry to have it end.   I've never read Mr. Haruf's work before but if his other novels are as good as this he's just got a new fan.
Date published: 2014-01-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Benediction--a winner on all fronts This end of life book treats the strong points of Dad Lewis' life--and the episodes that he could have done better. Anyone over fifty will grasp the protagonist and his struggle with making things right. Set in a fictional small town of Holt, Colorado, Haruf's outstanding writing pulls the reader along with great characters, a plausible plot, and a true to life ending. I will read it many times during its tenure in my library.
Date published: 2014-01-14
Rated 1 out of 5 by from OK I bought this book based on the short description and was very disappointed. I do not think the author ever lived in a small community. Too many characters and never really finished or fully told a story on any of them. Especially on Dad who the I thought the book was based on. I was hoping to give this book to a friend who's father recently passed to help her through but really I do not see how it would be of much help.
Date published: 2014-01-13
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Benediction I bought this book as an Indigo Spotlight book and based on the reviews I had expected more.  I found story moved slowly and altho some of the characters were well drawn, others needed more of a back story (wasn't clear what motivated them).  I think the author intended to convey personalities in a small community and their connections to each other.  The book also had a spiritual overtone which may not appeal to some. 
Date published: 2013-12-30
Rated 3 out of 5 by from I've never been so let down by a book I so enjoyed reading Very well written, incredibly engrossing, but such a let down in the end. At the end of the book I found myself asking what the point of reading it was....  If you can enjoy good writing without expecting anything in return, it is a good read. 
Date published: 2013-12-28

Extra Content

Read from the Book

Chapter 1   When the test came back the nurse called them into the examination room and when the doctor entered the room he just looked at them and asked them to sit down. They could tell by the look on his face where matters stood.   Go on ahead, Dad Lewis said, say it.   I’m afraid I don’t have very good news for you, the doctor said.   When they went back downstairs to the parking lot it was late in the afternoon.   You drive, Dad said. I don’t want to.   Are you feeling so bad, honey?   No. I don’t feel that much worse. I just want to look out at this country. I won’t be coming out here again.   I don’t mind driving for you, she said. And we can come this way again anytime if you want to.   They drove out from Denver away from the mountains, back onto the high plains: sagebrush and soapweed and blue grama and buffalo grass in the pastures, wheat and corn in the planted fields. On both sides of the highway were the gravel county roads going out away under the pure blue sky, all the roads straight as the lines ruled in a book, with only a few small isolated towns spread across the flat open country.   It was sundown when they got home. By then the air was starting to cool off. She parked the car in front of their house at the west edge of Holt on the gravel street and Dad got out and stood looking for a while. The old white house built in 1904, the first on the street which wasn’t even much of a street then, and still only three or four houses there yet when he bought it in 1948, the year he and Mary were married. He was twenty-two, working at the hardware store on Main Street, then the old lame man who owned it made up his mind to move away to live with his daughter and he offered Dad the option of purchasing it, and he was a known man in town by then, the bankers knew him, and gave him the loan without question. So he was the proprietor of the local hardware store.   It was a frame house sided with clapboard, two-story with a red shingled roof, with an old-fashioned black wrought iron fence around it and an iron gate with spears and hard loops at the top. Out back was an old red barn and a pole corral grown over with tall weeds, and beyond that there was nothing but the open country.   He went inside to the downstairs bedroom to put on old pants and a sweater and came back out and sat down in one of the porch chairs.   She came out to find him. Do you want supper now? I could make you a sandwich.   No. I don’t want anything. Maybe if you could bring me a beer.   You don’t want anything to eat?   You go on ahead without me.   Do you want a glass?   No.   She went inside and returned with the cold bottle.   Thank you, he said.   She went back in. He drank from the bottle and sat looking out at the quiet empty street in the summer evening. The neighbor Berta May’s yellow house next door and the other houses beyond it, running up to the highway, and the vacant lot directly across the street, and the railroad tracks three blocks in the other direction, all of that part of town still empty and undeveloped between his property and the tracks. In the trees in front of the house the leaves were blowing a little.   She brought a tray of crackers and cheese and an apple cut up in quarters and a glass of iced tea. Would you like any of this? She held out the tray to him. He took a piece of apple and she sat down beside him in the other porch chair. Well. That’s it, he said. That’s the deal now. Isn’t it.   He might be wrong. They’re wrong sometimes, she said. They can’t be so sure.   I don’t want to let myself think that way. I can feel it in me that they’re right. I don’t have much time left.   Oh I don’t want to believe that.   Yeah. But I’m pretty sure -that’s how it’s going to be.   I don’t want you to go yet, she said. She reached across and took his hand. I don’t. There were tears in her eyes. I’m not ready.   I know. . . . We better call Lorraine pretty soon, he said.   I’ll call her.   Tell her she doesn’t have to come home yet. Give her some time.   He looked at the beer bottle and held it in front of him and took a small drink.   I might get me some kind of better grade of beer before I go. A guy I was talking to said something about Belgian beer. Maybe I’ll try some of that. If I can get it around here.   He sat and drank the beer and held his wife’s hand sitting out on the front porch. 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.

Editorial Reviews

“His finest-tuned tale yet. . . . There is a deep, satisfying music to this book, as Haruf weaves between such a large cast of characters in so small a space. . . . Strangely, wonderfully, the moment of a man's passing can be a blessing in the way it brings people together. Benediction recreates this powerful moment so gracefully it is easy to forget that, like [the town of] Holt, it is a world created by one man.” —John Freeman, The Boston Globe"A quiet and profound statement about endings, about change and death and endurance, and about the courage it takes to finally let go. . . . What's remarkable is Haruf's ability, once again, to square quotidian events with what it means to be alive and bound in ordinary pleasure with ordinary people [with] a matter-of-fact tone, with spare declarative sentences and plain-speak among the characters that is, in its bare-bones clarity, often heartbreakingly authentic."  —Debra Gwartney, The Oregonian“What Haruf makes of this patch of ground is magic [and] Benediction spreads its blessing over the entire town.  Haruf isn’t interested in evil so much as the frailties that defeat us – loneliness, a failure to connect with one another, the lack of courage to change. . . . [He] makes us admire his characters’ ability not only to carry on but also to enjoy simple pleasures.” —Dan Cryer, San Francisco Chronicle“We’ve waited a long time for an invitation back to Holt, home to Kent Haruf’s novels. . . He may be the most muted master in American fiction [and] Benediction seems designed to catch the sound of those fleeting good moments [with] scenes Hemingway might have written had he survived.” —Ron Charles, Washington Post"A lovely book, surprisingly rich in character and event without any sense of being crowded. . . . Haruf is a master in summing up the drama that already exists in life, if you just pay attention." —Harper Barnes, St. Louis Post-Dispatch“Absorbing [and] evocative. . . . Haruf doesn’t offer us any facile reconciliations. The blessings in Benediction are [not] easily won. For that very reason they are all the more believable and all the more unforgettable.” – Richard Wakefield, The Seattle Times"Splendid. . . . As the expertly crafted structure of Benediction emerges, it becomes clear that [Haruf's many] characters trace the arc of a life. . . as we join [a good but flawed man] in his deepening appreciation for those around him, while counting down the remaining hours, in his life and our own." —Mike Fischer, Portland Press Herald“Remarkable. . . . Haruf paints indelible portraits of drifting days that reveal unexpected blessings. . . . We may not always recognize the best moments—maybe because they are often as simple as eating off the good china at a backyard picnic—but he understands their power to make us human.” —Connie Ogle, The Miami Herald"Itself a blessing. . . spare and unencumbered. . . . Haruf's great skill is in describing the plain ways of people who live in small places [and the war] going on between good and evil that we recognize as part of our nature. This is what makes Benediction a universal story, not a hometown tale." —Michael D. Langan, The Buffalo News“Quiet, and intimate, and beautiful.” —Lisa McLendon, The Wichita Eagle “If Hemingway had had more soul, he would've written a book like Benediction.” —Emma Broder, The Chicago Maroon"Incisive, elegiac, and rhetorically rich. . . his finest expression yet of an aesthetic vision that, in spite of its exacting verisimilitude, achieves a mythic dimension rare in contemporary fiction. . . . Haruf's art is rigorous but transparent. Scene after scene, we appreciate that we are in the hands of a master of complex storytelling disguised as simple observation. . . . Reading [him], I am often reminded of the great Russian realists, who have a similar compressed intensity and who spent much of their writing time examining the lives of ordinary people living in small communities in wide-open spaces." —Kevin Stevens, The Dublin Review of Books“Benediction suggests there’s no end to the stories Haruf can tell about Holt or to the tough, gorgeous language he can summon in the process.” —Paul Elie, The New York Times Book Review “Haruf is the master of what one of his characters calls 'the precious ordinary'. . . . With understated language and startling emotional insight, he makes you feel awe at even the most basic of human gestures.” —Ben Goldstein, Esquire“Grace and restraint are abiding virtues in Haruf's fiction, and they resume their place of privilege in his new work. . . . For readers looking for the rewards of an intimate, meditative story, it is indeed a blessing.” —Karen R. Long, The Cleveland Plain Dealer“Haruf is maguslike in his gifts. . . to illuminate the inevitable ways in which tributary lives meander toward confluence. . . . Perhaps not since Hemingway has an American author triggered such reader empathy with so little reliance on the subjectivity of his characters. . . . [This] is a modestly wrought wonder from one of our finest living writers.” —Bruce Machart, The Houston Chronicle“Both sad and surprisingly uplifting in its honest and skillful examination of death, families and friendship.” —Jason Swensen, Deseret News“As Haruf's precise details accrue, a reader gains perspective: This is the story of a man's life, and the town where he spent it, and the people who try to ease its end. . . . His sentences have the elegance of Hemingway's early work [and his] determined realism, which admits that not all of our past actions or the reasons behind them are knowable, even to ourselves, is one of the book's satisfactions.” —John Reimringer, The Minneapolis Star-Tribune“Reverberant… From the terroir and populace of his native American West, the author of Plainsong and Eventide again draws a story elegant in its simple telling and remarkable in its authentic capture of universal human emotions.” – Brad Hooper, Booklist