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A distinguished writer who creates amazing books.

A distinguished writer who creates amazing books.

A book review of Benediction

Article: Liam Fitz-Gerald

[dropcaps round=”no”]K[/dropcaps]ent Haruf’s Benediction is an emotionally charged novel that captures the last summer of a terminally ill man’s life and the various peoples interacting with him in the fictional town of Holt, Colorado. Indeed, Haruf spins a tale that interweaves several characters and their interactions with one another in Holt while exploring several issues ranging from coming to terms with death, parent-child relations, and politics.

Himself a Colorado resident, Haruf studied English at Nebraska Wesleyan University and served with the Peace Corps as an English teacher in Turkey and later taught at Southern Illinois University. At 41, he published his first works of fiction in the journal Peurto Del Sol and from there his writing career took off. Benediction is the latest of six books penned by Haruf, and the third one set in his fictional town of Holt.

Haruf is a distinguished writer, having won such awards such as the Whiting Foundation Writers’ Award, the Mountains & Plains Booksellers Award, and the Spirit of the West Award. His books have also received nominations for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, the New Yorker Book Award, and the National Book Award. His work has been compared most notably to Ernest Hemingway. The Minneapolis Star Tribune has written that “Haruf’s sentences have the elegance of Hemingway’s early work [and his] determined realism.”

Yet Haruf’s writing also evokes Cormac McCarthy. Indeed, Haruf’s writing utilizes McCarthy’s trademark style of no quotation marks to indicate speaking or describing (which can get confusing at times if one is not paying attention) and use of short paragraphs and short descriptive sentences.

Haruf’s novel opens with the book’s central character, Dad Lewis, receiving a devastating diagnosis of terminal cancer and told that he will likely die by the end of the summer. Benediction (which means to say a blessing) follows Lewis, a hardware store owner, as he reflects on important events in his life, such as the tragic consequences of firing a shoplifting employee and an argument that leads to lifelong estrangement with his son, and how he handled them.

Interwoven with the main story of Lewis are subplots of several other characters, including a church minister new to town with controversial ideas of his own and his troubled boy, family members and close friends of Lewis and a love affair gone totally awry.

While the major theme of the book is a man coming to terms with his mortality, Haruf also explores the relationship of parents to children and children to adults more broadly. Set in the early 2000s, Haruf explores political themes, such as unmitigated patriotism and questioning the policies of one’s country; themes that still echo in North America today. The novel has something for everyone and students from small town Saskatchewan will recognize the maxim of everyone knowing each other’s business emphasized throughout the book.

What Haruf manages to do successfully in this book is capture the trials and tribulations of not just the main character, but several others, and does so in a way that is descriptive and to the point. He does not drone on for pages about a single point, but explains everything succinctly and clearly. The chapters are short and the points are clear. The book is definitely well worth reading and certainly a highlight from 2013.

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Genre: Fiction

Year Published: 2013

Length: 258 pages

Publisher: Vintage Contemporaries

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