'Dad' Lewis, a respected but somewhat gruff member of his small community of Holt, Colorado, has just been given the news that he is dying, and this will be his last summer. With the help of his wife Mary and daughter Lorraine, he prepares himself and his family and friends for his death, making amends with the few people he feels he has wronged and making sure that his family knows he loves them. His biggest regret is the failed relationship with his gay son, whom he simply could not understand and from whom he is now estranged.
Benediction is set in the same town as Haruf's earlier novels, Plainsong and Eventide. We get a glimpse of this small community, the place Dad held in the town and the people who have touched his life. Other stories parallel Dad's-- a young girl who moves in next door with her grandmother, a young preacher who brings controversy and conflict to the town, the loyal employees of Dad's hardware store--all reminders that life goes on. While the book is structured around Dad, women are an important part of the story--their strength, their friendship, the bond between mothers and daughters. This is a quiet story, like Haruf’s other books, with beautiful, simple writing.
A favorite passage in the book is when the young preacher takes a night-time walk through the town and is stopped by a policeman:
Is there something wrong with you? What are you doing out here?
I'm just walking. Having a look around town.
Your family knows where you are?
They know I'm taking a walk.
It doesn't bother you to look in other people's houses? You think that's all right.
I don't think I'm doing any harm. I didn't mean to.
Well, these people don't like it. This man called you in.
What did he say?
That you were looking in his house.
Did he say what he was doing in his house?
Why would he say that?
People in their houses at night. These ordinary lives. Passing without their knowing.
I'd hoped to recapture something.
The officer stared at him.
The precious ordinary.
I don't know what you're talking about, but you'd better keep moving.
I thought I'd see people being hurtful. Cruel. A man hitting his wife. But I haven't seen that. Maybe all that's behind the curtains. If you're going to hit somebody, maybe you pull the curtain first.
What I've seen is the sweet kindness of one person to another. Just time passing on a summer's night. This ordinary life.
-Ellen Bottiny, Tysons-Pimmit Library