My take on this book is that it’s a character study on loss: mostly sad and with a new generation or two inheriting some things, a good word maybe, in occasionally luminous moments.
Mr Haruf writes in a way that calls to mind Willa Cather and other American authors of the past century. His book might play to a Copland soundtrack in my head: slow and measured, sorrow with a dash of hope.
In a sparse writing style, the reader gets to know an ensemble of characters while the central one, “Dad” Lewis is dying of cancer. If a reader is expecting plot resolution, there may be some disappointments. There’s a lot being juggled here: will an estranged gay son return before his father dies, will a pacifist-leaning minister create an uproar or simply fade away, which suicide attempt will take and which won’t, and what about the orphaned little girl?
Benediction reads like a summer in the country spent by an observant visitor. One gets a snapshot of big events (like a death) and one is privy to scandalous moments in town history that few people know about. One gets a serious helping of small-town cruelty and close-mindedness, and one finds allies in surprising places.
Not everything gets resolved by the last page, and the reader is left to move on. That title, “benediction,” is Latin for good word, suggesting a blessing. The dying father in the story lost his opportunity to give his son a “good word,” but in his dying days, the reader wonders if his uprightly small town honorable rep will spell into a blessing for his daughter, who has returned to nurse him and assist her mother.
And if you’ll pardon one spoiler, I was rather hoping for the minister’s appearance as the funeral presider, and what possible blow-up would occur there, given how the whole town was likely to be turning out to honor one of its own. But then the page turns, and it was time to leave.