Monday, April 8, 2013

Benediction by Kent Haruf

I believe I've read two previous novels by Kent Haruf.  One, Plainsong, I loved.  The other, (title unfortunately forgotten,) I remember loving until the ending—at which point it earned itself a spot at the bottom of the Caribbean.*  Benediction has redeemed my opinion of Haruf.

For being a story packed with things that could [quite plausibly] have been antagonistic or offensive, (the roles of religion, sex, and other beliefs and needs,) the book is surprisingly gentle, warm, and embracing.  Well, from my point of view at least.  I'm curious to see how it would hit others.**

Haruf uses beautifully fleshed out characters to explore the gap between our ideas and our actions.  What is good? What is bad? Why?  Do we believe (and live by) the ideas we profess?  What do our words and actions show our priorities to be?

This passage addresses what very well may be the crux of the problem:
People don't want to be disturbed.  They want assurance.  They don't come to church on Sunday morning to think about new ideas or even the old important ones.  They want to hear what they've been told before, with only some small variation on what they've been hearing all their lives, and then they want to go home and eat pot roast and say it was a good service and feel satisfied.

I am a Christian because I believe in Jesus Christ and his teachings.  The point and purpose is to improve my life and those around me by changing my actions to align with his. This takes thought.  This takes action.  This takes making difficult choices and challenging my built-in thought processes.  These are good things.  What on earth is the point of floating around in a little bubble of platitudes?  Why bother with the tremendous effort of keeping up appearances when you could be getting all the benefits that come with actually living out your beliefs?

Benediction represents one of the larger reasons I love to read.  It expands my horizons and exposes me to different ideas that I can bounce off my own—it allows me to see the world through different eyes and prevents me from becoming complacent.  I loved the complexity of the characters, the beautiful simplicity of the writing, the way it pulled me through in a few hours' time.  The characters seem to belong to their setting in the way that Willa Cather's are one with theirs: without effort, but with a vitality that makes the story that much more real.
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* It wasn't me who put it there.  Rather, my husband, himself inflamed at my griping, tore it from my hands and fed it to the fishes.  True story.

** It got me thinking.  Why wasn't Benediction offensive to me when Flight Behavior was?  In a way, they both took a small town setting to address some big issues...yet Flight Behavior felt smug and preachy, while Benediction felt compassionate and peaceful.  The subject of Flight Behavior (global warming) isn't as personal to be as the subject of Benediction (beliefs etc) so it seems that my reaction should be opposite...unless Benediction was in fact written with more respect, more peace, more compassion.  I'm compelled to think it must be so.

11 comments:

  1. This sounds like something that would interest me.

    From the titles of Plainsong and Eventide I would imagine that they are about similar topics. Does Plainsong relate to Benediction at all?

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    1. I haven't read Eventide yet, but from what I remember of Plainsong it doesn't address faith & beliefs quite as directly as Benediction does, but it is still about life decisions and living out what seems right to you. The stories were independent of each other, but do have a connection in location (and Benediction mentions characters from Plainsong also). My favorite type of sequel!

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  2. HaHaHa! (on the story of your husband feeding the book to the fish.) I have to tell my hubby that one. He will really get a kick out of it. It sounds like something that should go on my TBR list.

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    1. I'd love to hear what you think about it! I wish I remembered more about my opinion of that poor lost book, but all that sticks in my mind is that I felt like my opinion hinged on the ending (which, obviously, didn't go well). After reading Benediction though I'm inclined to test out whether it was more due to where I was at in life at the time (9 years ago) and keep reading through the author's works. Looking through his books I'm wondering if the ill-fated one was Where You Once Belong. Nothing much sounds familiar about it though...it'd be interesting to see if I remembered it while reading!

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  3. Funny story about your previous Haruf book swimming with the fishes.

    I loved Benediction, but I've been a long time Haruf fan. I think he is so respectful of his characters and has his finger on the pulse of small town Americana. (Did you see my review before, by any chance? Because I broke down and cried in that chapter where the pastor is trying to preach a true message of Christianity.)

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    1. Yes - your review convinced me to pick it up as soon as possible! I grew up in a small town church that operated more on tradition than anything else (in many ways) and it took me many years to really examine my beliefs and ideas to come to where I am. That scene was sad and touching - the more so because it felt realistic and not purely judgmental. The opposing viewpoint could have been delved into a bit further, but the author's grace and respect made it work regardless.

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  4. I have this on my Kindle. Is this a standalone then? It sounds like it from your review. I had read one place it was the end of a trilogy. I haven't read this author before? Do you think I can go ahead and read this one? I bought it on Crowe's advice.

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    1. Whoops, sorry for not replying sooner, Belle! I agree with what Crowe said (both below and in her review of Benediction) and would love to hear your opinion on this one. It is very much a standalone novel. In some ways a slow and peaceful read, it also hooked me and kept me reading. I finished it in a single day, which just hasn't happened for me recently.

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  5. It's not part of a trilogy, but all of his books take place in the same small (fictional) town of Holt, Colorado. Occasionally his other characters may show up in another book, but not in any integral way.

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  6. I keep meaning to read this author. Religion isn't typically a subject I want to read about, but it sounds like it's handled really well in this book. I'll probably start with Plainsong as its the first in the trilogy.

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