Benediction by Kent Haruf, book of a lifetime: The author describes the act of dying almost like the act of giving birth
Thursday 07 August 2014
This spring, as we were completing the summer issue of Granta, American Wild, I started reading Kent Haruf.
Benediction, his latest book, is about an old man who is dying of lung cancer. Dad Lewis lives in the small town of Holt, Colorado, on a quiet, empty street. His wife Mary is looking after him, with help from the district nurse and the hospital, and a daughter, who comes home.
Haruf describes the act of dying almost like the act of giving birth: a natural process, a slipping in and out of morphine dreams, a gradual withdrawal. There are visitations from the dead, as gnarled and taciturn as they no doubt were in life. There is also a son, alienated and lost.
The drama of Dad Lewis's memories builds up to the climactic memory of his son, and another boy, on a horse: "Frank behind the other boy, their heads close together, and each of them was dressed in one of Lorraine's frilly summer dresses, trotting in and out of the shafts of sunlight." In the homophobic climate of the midwest in a timeless 20th-century past, the son disappeared into an urban – and poor – existence.
The boy is gone. And his parents wait. There are suspected sightings, there is a sense that he might walk in through the door, but the truth of the book, and of life, is that he never does.
I wrote to Kent Haruf to tell him how much I liked his novels, for the precision of his vocabulary, for the grace that runs through his books, and for the realism. Some of his protagonists recover; others do not. There are good people and bad people, gentle rhythms infused with harsher notes. I thought, I wrote, of Laura Ingalls Wilder overlaid with Cormac McCarthy.
American Wild implies loss, as well as exhilaration, and danger. All of that is there in Haruf, along with a measure of grace and peace of mind. Dad Lewis dies, as we all will. Life carries on, as it does.
'Granta 128: American Wild', edited by Sigrid Rausing, £12.99 or £10.99 inc p&p from the Independent Bookshop
TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Peter Lik: The self-proclaimed 'fine-art photographer' whose work sells for millions
The best underrated Christmas movies from Love, Actually to While You Were Sleeping
Grace Dent on TV: The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies was a beautifully shot, immensely considered drama
The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies, review: Jason Watkins is brilliant, but real victim Joanna Yeates is reduced to a footnote
Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking Lana Del Rey rape video
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Shock poll shows voters believe Ukip is to the left of the Tories
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits 'record low' as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Ukip candidate jokes about 'shooting peasants' in racist and homophobic rant
Pakistan school attack live: Taliban kill at least 132 children in 'horrifying' massacre