Like all Kent Haruf novels, Benediction is set in the high plains of Holt County outside of Denver, Colorado. It tells the story of Dad Lewis, a man dying of cancer, and the lives of those close to him in his final days. His wife, Mary, and daughter, Lorraine, are at his side as Dad works through the unresolved issues in his life: most importantly his relationship with his estranged son, Frank.
There’s more to this story than Dad’s death though. Lorraine has experienced deep loss in her past. She and a couple of neighbourhood women become fond of Alice, a girl who has lost both her parents and is living with her grandmother. There’s also the story of the new preacher in town. His home life is already strained, and he manages to make enemies in Holt by expressing his honest views about the ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. His belief in “turning the other cheek” extends to the Middle East, and this doesn’t sit well with many of the Midwesterners in his congregation.
Haruf’s writing, as always, is quiet and unassuming but powerful. Reading about a man dying of cancer is not pretty, and Haruf doesn’t pull any punches. My impression is that Haruf has first-hand experience with the agonizing, sometimes humiliating and always humbling process of dying. Every description is accurate and often painful to read.
This is certainly a sad story, and you may even weep reading it -- but it’s worth it to experience the understated beauty of Kent Haruf.