Benediction by Kent Haruf

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by Kent Haruf

Dad Lewis is dying.  He and his wife of more than fifty years have just been told by Dad’s doctor that his cancer has spread through his body and is terminal.  He will likely not last out the summer.  As he steadily declines, the world keeps turning, the sun continues to rise and set every day, and the lives around him go on, with all of their dramas and heartbreaks, large and small.  And isn’t that the way of things?  Time never stops creeping forward, and one person’s decline towards death is insignificant in the larger context of the world, but everything within the intimate space of a family and a community.

The story is populated by a small parade of characters come in and out of focus: Mary Lewis, Dad’s wife, tender-hearted and utterly devoted; Lorraine, their middle-aged daughter, who has never gotten over the death of her teenaged daughter years previous; Berta Mae, the elderly woman who has lived next door to the Lewises for as long as anyone can remember; Alice, Beta Mae’s eight-year old granddaughter who has lost her own mother to breast cancer and has been taken in by Berta Mae; Reverend Lyle, the young, new preacher in town who has a strained relationship with his wife and son and ideas that the townspeople can’t accept; Willa and Alene Johnson, and elderly woman and her not-quite-elderly daughter who are each dealing with their own disappointments; and Frank, the Lewises’ son from whom they have been estranged for many years, and who is only present in flashbacks.  As Dad (so nicknamed decades before when he became a father) lays dying, more than his life flashing before him, regrets flash before him, slowly and steadily.

There are some books that leave me crying at the end; this one had me crying at the beginning.  There is a scene in the opening pages, shortly after Dad and Mary learn that he is terminal, when Mary collapses from exhaustion.  The depth of Dad’s distress and concern for his old, ailing wife just did me in.  There are so many scenes throughout the book – another in which the old Johnson women, middle-aged Lorraine, and young Alice go skinny dipping in a stock tank – I know it sounds like it would be a hilarious scene, but it was so moving, the tears were just flowing.

Kent Haruf is one of the very best authors I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading; I have read all of his books except two, and have loved every one of them.  This one is no exception.  Tender and stark, a story about life and living every bit as much as it is about death and dying.

Five big, fat stars.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

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by John Green

A friend of mine on Goodreads posted the following review of this book:


I have to agree.  Wow.

The Fault In Our Stars is a novel about cancer, and dying, and being young, and being in love.  It’s a novel about being young and in love while also dying of cancer.  Somehow, though, it manages to not be smarmy or sappy or overly sentimental, while still yanking on your heartstrings.

Narrated by sixteen-year old Hazel who has been hanging on for three years with terminal cancer, she tells of meeting seventeen-year old Augustus, amputee and in remission from his own cancer, at a youth cancer support group.  The two hit it off immediately and quickly become nearly inseparable.  At the heart of the story is their shared love of a (fictional) book entitled An Imperial Affliction – a novel about a teenage girl with terminal cancer.   As the book ends abruptly, leaving both Hazel and Augustus frustrated, they use a Genie wish (wishes granted to terminally ill kids, much like the real-life Make A Wish Foundation) to travel to Amsterdam to meet the author of AIA in the hopes of getting some answers.  While their meeting with the author turns out to be a huge disappointment, their trip to Amsterdam cements their romantic relationship.  But, of course, tragedy is right around the corner.

I loved, loved, loved this book.  Knowing that cancer plays a major role, I wasn’t sure I would like it despite the glowing reviews, if only because my husband is in remission from cancer (four and a half years now!), and reading or hearing about cancer still touches a raw spot for me.  The author does a fabulous job telling the story from a teenage girl’s point of view – I’m always impressed when writers are able to so believably write as the opposite sex.  Profound, witty, and yes, tragic, this book asks big questions, and ultimately is as much about being alive as it is about dying.

And it’s going to be a movie!