“His finest-tuned tale yet.” The tale in question is Kent Haruf’s Benediction, just published by Knopf, and the phrase comes from one of a growing body of reviews filled with praise for the novel. In it, Haruf takes us back to Holt, his fictional town in eastern Colorado, the scene of his previous novels, Plainsong and Eventide. The new offering tells the story of Dad Lewis, who learns in the opening pages that he will be dead before the end of the summer. The novel, though, is far from a depressing death-watch, or a saccharine bedside farewell, but a look at the sometimes harsh realities of life in a small town, at one man’s life and relationships, and at his capacity for both great generosity and great cruelty. Much hovers beneath Haruf’s graceful prose, and much is gradually revealed as the disarmingly simple sentences build, steadily and surely, to the conclusion.
The reviews for the book amount to a benediction of their own, invoking literary blessings on the novel and its author. John Freeman, writing in The Boston Globe, notes, “There is a deep, satisfying music to this book, as Haruf weaves between such a large cast of characters in so small a space. . . . . Strangely, wonderfully, the moment of a man’s passing can be a blessing in the way it brings people together. Benediction recreates this powerful moment so gracefully it is easy to forget that, like Holt, it is a world created by one man.” Bruce Machart, for The Houston Chronicle, calls the novel “a modestly wrought wonder from one of our finest living writers.”
The Huntington agrees that Kent Haruf is one of our finest living writers, for the library is the repository for his literary archive. His papers include drafts of his stories and novels, among them several versions of Plainsong (a finalist for the 1999 National Book Award), as well as the draft of an early unpublished novel, The Buried Life. There are letters from writers T. C. Boyle, Tracy Kidder, Annie Proulx, and others. A long series of letters from John Irving includes this praise of Plainsong: “Your new novel is terrific. It’s your best, but it’s also one of the best American novels I’ve ever read, and I’m not exaggerating. It’s great work, Kent.”
Whether you are a devoted Haruf fan, as I am, or are new to his remarkable writing, I encourage you to get a copy of Benediction and discover the quiet grace and rich power of his fiction.
To purchase the book, contact The Huntington’s Bookstore & More.
Sara S. “Sue” Hodson is curator of literary manuscripts at The Huntington.