Benediction, recently shortlisted for the Folio Prize, is the third Plainsong novel but true to form I haven't yet read the other two. Fortunately this doesn't matter because it's not a sequel rather a look at some of the other residents of Holt, a quiet country town in Colorado. In particular it follows the last few months of Dad Lewis who at the start of the book is diagnosed with terminal cancer, his wife Mary and their adult daughter, Lorraine. Next door Berta May is adapting to life with her eight year old granddaughter following the death of the girl's mother and Willa, an elderly widow and her unmarried daughter Alene are good friends to both families. The town also has a new preacher, Reverend Lyle, a man whose heartfelt but contentious beliefs will divide the town and his own family.
The writing here is sparse and stripped bare of metaphors. Adjectives are plain and functional. Haruf has even foregone speech marks meaning prose and speech blend into one. This I must admit took a little getting used to but it's actually a very effective device for these quiet voiced people, they are as much a part of the landscape as the dirt tracks and open fields that surround them. The characters themselves are somehow straightforward and complicated at the same time, they are regular people, with regular lives and regular deaths, flawed individuals living in a repressive small town where narrow-mindedness and fear can lead to sudden violence yet still there can be gentle acts of compassion. Haruf never judges his characters nor tells us how to feel, they are what they are; loyal, scared, bitter, dogmatic, angry, moral, obligated and kind. It's a book that is more complex than its deceptively simple prose would at first have you believe, a reminder both of the footprints left by each individual and yet the relentless continuity of life. I enjoyed it immensely and look forward to reading the first two books, Plainsong and Eventide soon.
Thanks to the author and publishers for my free copy of Benediction through Netgalley in return for my honest review.
Benediction is published in the UK by Picador.