“When Dad Lewis is diagnosed with terminal cancer, he and his wife must work together, along with their daughter, to make his final days as comfortable as possible, despite the bitter absence of their estranged son. Next door, a young girl moves in with her grandmother and contends with the memories that Dad’s condition stirs up of her own mother’s death. A newly arrived preacher attempts to mend his strained relationships with his wife and son, and soon faces the disdain of his congregation when he offers more than they are used to getting on Sunday mornings. And throughout, an elderly widow and her middle-aged daughter do all they can to ease the pain of their friends and neighbours.”
I won’t lie to you. This is not my usual reading material. The only reason why this book was on my radar was because of one of my modules at University. It was one of the few on a long list of books we could choose from that actually captured my attention… So I read it.
First of all, I think I need to write a definition of what Benediction means, because if you were like me you might not understand what it means. Benediction is the utterance of a blessing, especially at the end of a religious service, which is a weird name to give a story that isn’t really about religion. Sure it is mixed into the narrative; one of the narrations is from the new priest in town and several others are avid church goers – but it doesn’t flavour the novel in the way you expect.
Haruf manages to allow the reader an insight into the character’s minds whilst also allowing the reader to create their own opinions on them by using third person. We see their struggles with daily life – from the Priest’s family trying to settle in a new town, to the Johnson women accepting their loneliness, to the Lewes family trying to grasp every last moment with Dad – but the thing about this book is that absolutely nothing happens. The story arc is slow and unfulling. We want Mary to find Frank and bring him home, we want that reconciliation between father and son. But she doesn’t and they don’t. Because that’s life and not everything can be tied up in a bow at the end. Besides, that’s not what the story is about.
Benediction describes real people. Alene has an affair with a married man, Dad has a strained relationship with his homosexual son. This story is not about finding redemption in your last days on Earth or finding a purpose in life. It’s about the hardships. I believe the book is called Benediction as a reminder that life, all life, is a blessing. As the character Dad nears the end of his, he realises that he made a terrible mistake in his actions towards his son – mistakes that he will never be able to redeem. The fact the story has no point is so symbolic to real life. We think every action we make, every story we read on the internet and in the news has to have a point but it doesn’t. Life is meaningless and at the end of the day, we should be thankful for our time on Earth.
Like I’ve already mentioned, this is not the usual book I seek nor is it the type of book I will ever purposefully seek out again. But I loved it. The characters are so beautifully complex and interesting that I found it very easy to read. It was only at the end when I began to reflect on the fact that there was no narrative arc that I started thinking about what the book could mean.
I honestly would recommend this book to fellow writers interested in writing well-developed characters – it’s almost crucial to your own development as a writer. But to even those who don’t write should take the time to read this. It’s much deeper than you ever expect.