by Mary Kent Haruf
Benediction is the story of “Dad” Lewis. Dad has terminal cancer, but much more than death and dying, this is a story of relationships, caring and living. The ups and downs, the struggles and successes, the challenges and disappointments that every person experiences through a long life are apparent in the characters who populate the little town of Holt, Colorado. Dad’s wife and daughter are doing their best to support him through his final months; long-time neighbors and a new minister in town are doing their parts too.
As the novel progresses, Haruf really brings each character alive as we discover things about their lives and some of the challenges each of them has faced. He has a wonderful way of telling their stories with gentle humor and insight. Most of the text is dialog and he is certainly a master at writing it. A reviewer for Booklist calls Benediction, “A story elegant in its simple telling and remarkable in its authentic capture of universal human emotions.”
In addition to his ability to bring characters to life, it is a pleasure to discover an author so skilled at descriptions of settings that the reader is almost unaware of it, but at the same time can get a real sense of place – both landscapes, towns, neighborhoods and specific homes. These subtle descriptions are important to the story and what makes it seem so real. Words that reviewers have used to describe Benediction include absorbing, quiet, profound, intimate, beautiful, understated language and startling emotional insight. All of Haruf’s novels are set in the same small town of Holt; some of the other titles are Plainsong, Eventide, and the most recent, Our Souls at Night, which came out in 2015, just months after Haruf’s death in late 2014.
When I recommend a book, people typically ask, “What’s it about?” That’s a hard one to answer with this book. It’s about life, death, love, regret, hope, and so much more. The Dublin Review of Books put it this way: “Scene after scene, we appreciate that we are in the hands of a master of complex storytelling disguised as simple observation.” The ending of the book is sad, but at the same time very sweet and tender. Karen R. Long of the Cleveland Plain Dealer says, “ … For readers looking for the rewards of an intimate, meditative story, it is indeed a blessing.” She’s right. I hope you will set aside some special time for yourself and read Benediction.
Kathleen Pohlig is owner of Cherry Street Books in Alexandria.
by Norma Thorstad Knapp
This author is an Alexandria resident. Norma grew up in the Dickinson, North Dakota area, and this memoir reflects the challenges she and her family faced from about 1943-64. The setting centers around the 20 houses in 21 years in which her family lived.
The book focuses on how the seven children became independent, skilled and resilient in spite of needing to respond to life’s challenges such as abuse, alcoholism, divorce and poverty. The support of extended family, schools, churches and community were credited for the successes achieved by Knapp and her siblings.
Between each chapter, Norma shares a letter to her younger sister. They were written in 2012-14 and reflect how the Dickinson community has changed as a result of the oil boom.
Being a North Dakota native who grew up in the same era, I enjoyed how she captured life as it was in the 1950s and 60s in small communities in North Dakota.
Bonnie Holm is a retired special education teacher and administrator. She and her husband, Dean, have three children and nine grandchildren. Her book club, “The Novel Club, gave this book their highest rating.
by Mary Kubica
In this book, a Chicago mother brings a homeless teenager and her infant baby into her comfortable middle class home. Her husband and daughter are horrified that she would take in this young woman whom she knows nothing about, but she insists on helping the girl.
The action picked up subtly until I was turning the pages almost faster than I could read them. The ending was excellent.
I would recommend this to anyone who likes psychological fiction. It was well written from multiple character viewpoints, which added to the suspense as you realized that all was not as it seems.
Megan Leipholtz of Buffalo is a busy, physically active mom of five who loves to curl up with a book at the end of the day.