Friday, December 20, 2013

Benediction: Book Review

The demons were out Wednesday night. Three a.m. could not sleep. Coursing through my consciousness were recollections of missed opportunities all jockeying for position and gaining access to my head as if elbowing each other to get face time.  Tried classical music to get some sleep which often helps, but on Wednesday the station mostly served to supply weather reports every half hour.  Occasionally, as if to add salt to the wound, the host would announce the time reminding me that it was say, 343 in the a.m. and I was still awake.

Probably no coincidence that on Wednesday I was nearly finished with Benediction--an excellent but sad novel by Kent Haruf.  I finished the book yesterday. While the last ten pages were unnecessary, too schmaltzy, and could have been edited out to make the book even more powerful, I still highly recommend the book. Just beautifully written, easy to read, and about any of us who is in touch with our hearts and life.

It is about the owner of a hardware store in the rural plains of eastern Colorado who has discovered that he has only a month to live.  In that month he revisits and is revisited by his life and disappointments.   If you've been around the track enough times, you do not need to be given a death sentence to identify.  Our history lives in our head and when the time is right and we are not kidding ourselves, we are confronted with the episodes when we zigged instead of zagged--particularly when we sensed or knew at the time that we should have zagged.

When I was in camp as a kid, every Friday night we had services. At the end of the service the camp owner was called to a podium and delivered what was called "the benediction".  To me, the word benediction has always been associated with this short talk he gave which every single week was exactly, but exactly, the same. It was so clearly repetitive that his message, after a spell, became meaningless and we wise guy kids would mouth the words we had gotten to know by heart.  What the word, benediction, actually meant was something I was unsure of when I picked up the novel since to this day I immediately thought of Uncle Chic's one minute talk as what a benediction was. So, I looked it up.  In the dictionary by my side I read that a benediction is "the short blessing with which public worship is concluded."  By extension, a stretch perhaps, the last month of the main character's life is his conclusion and the way he addresses his history and the way his loved ones communicate with him is a benediction, a blessing to and for his life.

The author has an enviable ability to depict people and conversations precisely as you might think they would be.  For the reader this story is as real as fiction can be.  Beautiful book. Highly recommended.  But don't be surprised if some stuff from your past is unearthed.

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