Saturday, March 16, 2013

Book #7: Benediction by Kent Haruf

I tried so hard not to read this book too quickly because I knew when it was over it would be...over. And now I don't have it to read anymore. Yes, it was that good.

If I've ever recommended a book to you, it's likely that I recommended Plainsong, also by Haruf. It's one of my top five favorite books. Benediction is the last book in a "loosely related trilogy" about the people in the town of Holt, Colorado. Plainsong is the first, and Eventide is the second. The third book is so loosely related that you do not need to read the other two in order to understand and appreciate it.

Benediction is the story of Dad Lewis, the proprietor of the town's hardware store, as he lives the last days of his life. But this isn't just Dad's story. It's the story of Mary and Lorraine, his wife and daughter; Willa and Alene Johnson, a mother and daughter who live together in Holt; Berta May and her granddaughter Alice, whose own mother recently died of cancer; Rob Lyle, the town minister, and his troubled wife and son. But it's not their individual stories that make this book so moving -- it's their collective story of life and death and joy and peace. Like our own stories don't belong to just us, neither do the stories in the book belong to just one character.

I am once again amazed at Haruf's ability to weave together characters so beautifully without ever turning toward the over-poetic or over-complicated plot lines that some authors simply cannot avoid. His dialogue is sparse but incredibly authentic. The characters -- especially the women in the novel -- see a need and simply help as it is in their nature to do. They remind me of so many women I know who are never recognized for simply doing what should be done. One of my many favorite moments is when they decide to go swimming. The women realize they will always hold some piece of their youth, and they choose to revel in it.

Dad Lewis himself is a fantastic character. He did not live a perfect life, but he was a good man who knew his own faults and failures. I hope that when my own time comes, people will not remember as someone who was perfect, but as someone who did her very best with what she knew. That's how I feel about Dad Lewis.

The scenes where Mary cares for Dad near his death are both heartbreaking and beautiful. Haruf paints those moments as a gift, and Mary honors them as such.

If you're looking to be moved, to see the good in the world around you, then read this book. But keep some tissues handy.

I can't close this without the prayer that Rev. Lyle offers for Dad because I love it:
"May we be at peace together with Dad Lewis here, Lyle said softly. May there be peace and love and harmony in this room. May there be the same in all the difficult and conflicted world outside this house. May this man -- he stopped and spoke directly to Dad in the bed -- may you leave this physical world without any more pain or regrets or unhappiness or remorse or self-doubt or worry and may you let all your trials and troubles and cares pass away. May you simply be at peace. May each of us here in this room be at peace as well. Now we ask all of these blessings in the name of Jesus, who himself was the Prince of Peace. Amen.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Book #6: A Painted House by John Grisham

I like John Grisham novels. I've read several - I don't know how many - and I always enjoy them. I also like novels about small towns. Since this is a Grisham novel about a small town, I found it very enjoyable 

A Painted House is narrated by a seven year old boy and tells the story of his family one summer and fall during the cotton harvest. It's the mid 50s, 1954, I think, and Luke lives on a small farm with his mother father, grandmother, and grandfather. Laborers come to help pick the cotton, and their presence enriches and complicates young Luke's life. Grisham does a nice job with the child narrator, and I felt as if young adult Luke was telling the story exactly as seven year old Luke remembered it. I got to hear his thoughts as he began to learn about love and sin and faith.

When I just want to read a book I know I'll get into and like but I don't want to be too emotionally disturbed by the characters or the situation, I often pick up John Grisham. As usual, this book did not disappoint. I read a paper copy, so it is available to borrow if you're interested!