Likely Stories: Benediction, by Kent Haruf

Aug 3, 2017

Mesmerizing tale of a group of citizens of Holt, Colorado, by an amazing writer.


I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and biographies.

After his stunning novel, Our Souls at Night blew me away, I am on the verge of completing my reading Kent Haruf’s entire collection.  My latest read, Benediction tells the story of the residents of Holt, Colorado, in a series of vignettes.  The Johnson women—Willa and Alene—and Berta May and her granddaughter, Alice, and the main characters, Dad Lewis, his wife Mary, and their daughter Lorraine, are all interesting, thoughtful, kind, and generous people.  The only missing person is Frank, the son of Dad and Mary.  He disappeared years ago after a conflict with Dad. 

After the bad news from a doctor, Haruf writes, ‘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 country 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” (3).

After the visit to the doctor, Mary collapsed in her living room and was rushed to the hospital.  They called their daughter, Lorraine, to come and help out.  Haruf writes, “The next day, Lorraine drove into Holt on Highway 34 after the sun had already gone down and the blue street lamps had come on at the corners.  It was all familiar to her.  She turned north off the highway and drove along past the quiet night-lighted houses set back behind the front yards, some of the yards bare of trees or bushes next to vacant lots filled with weeds—tall sunflowers and redroot and pigweed—and then there was Berta May’s house which had been there when she was a child, and then their own white house.  She got out and went up to the porch, a pretty woman in her mid fifties with dark hair.  The air was cool and smelled fresh of the country in the evenings out on the high plains” (15). 

Haruf describes Willa and Alene.  He writes, “It was her way, Willa’s manner and her character to keep the house clean and in good repair out in the country east of Holt though few people drove by to see it and almost no one ever visited and entered it.  A white house with blue shutters and a blue shingled roof.  The outbuildings were all painted a deep barn red with white trim and they were in good condition too though they had not been used for thirty years, since her husband had died. // She still drove her car.  Her eyes were failing but not so much nor so fast she was ready to give up driving” (46). 

This story is—like all of Haruf’s novels—spell-binding and comforting in the goodness of these people.  I will be sad to complete my reading of Haruf; however, this is a collection I will go back to someday.  Kent Haruf’s prose is so soft and smooth that I can hear their gentle voices.  Even the weather receives as much attention as larger details, and I found myself immersed in the author’s world.  Benediction is a novel I found hardest to put down.  Mesmerized is a word I do not often use, but it aptly applies here.  5 stars

Likely Stories is a production of KWBU.  I’m Jim McKeown.  Join me again next time for Likely Stories and happy reading.