By Kent Haruf
$30 Alfred Knopf publishing
There is nothing that makes you appreciate life like the certain news that you may soon be leaving it. So it is with the character of Dad Lewis, living in Holt, Colo., sometime in the years since 9-11.
I have not read any of this author’s other books, and he is the author of five novels, all highly acclaimed, so he is quite a find.
His titles, Eventide, Plainsong, The Tie that Binds and this one, Benediction, have an Anglican sound to them, but it’s not a religious book.
The benediction is the utterance of a blessing most people would welcome at life’s end.
Dad Lewis is sent home to die. He is assured that his pain will be controlled, and he should pass with a measure of comfort, just being home. Mary, his wife, has had all his care up to this point and is exhausted, so their daughter Lorraine comes home from Denver to help.
Dad Lewis sleeps and thinks. He has a lot of thinking to do about the life he’s led, the town of Holt and the way he treated people.
He ran away from his own poor beginnings when he was 15, but he had the luck to fall for a classy girl. She is with him still, although their son Frank is estranged from them and may not be back in time, or ever.
Meanwhile, the town of Holt is full of drama of various kinds. The community church has a new preacher who’s name is Reverend Lyle. There are rumours about his behaviour in his last parish but he and his wife and son have moved into the parsonage.
The parishioners may overlook vague rumours, but when his sermon suggests that perhaps Jesus was serious about “turning the other cheek” and that the war with Afghanistan is (perhaps) wrong, there are many folks riled up. People walk out of morning service and he’s called a “terrorist sympathizer” by one very loud, angry church member. He even gets slapped around a bit.
The preacher’s son is a city boy from Denver, unhappy with the move to Holt, but he’s become enthralled by one of the local charmers. She tends to love ’em and leave ’em, and the young man wants his life over.
There is a long-ago fiddling of the books at Dad Lewis’s hardware store, a young man is punished, by Dad Lewis and his family suffer.
This too must run through the mind of the dying man; so many details that no one, other than himself knows.
His two employees of long-standing who might expect to take over the store learn from Dad Lewis that Lorraine, the daughter, will now manage the store.
There is a great scene here of the town women young and old taking a skinny dip in a cool horse trough on a scorching day.
It’s all about life, and eventually death. The writing is top-notch, I recommend it.
Peggy Freeman is a local freelance books reviewer.