On Kent Haruf's new novel, "Benediction," and Anticipation for the Upcoming New Coen Brothers' Film, "Inside Llewyn Davis"

So Kent Haruf’s new novel, Benediction, came out last February, but I waited until I came to Colorado to buy it, because I know Kent. He lives near Salida, about fifty miles from where my summer (writing) home is, and in support of the independently owned, brick-and-mortar bookstores, I bought my hardback at The Book Haven in Salida, a great mountain bookstore with a nice owner. Benediction is the continuation of a trilogy of sorts, one that started with Haruf’s best-seller Plainsong (1999), continued with Eventide (2004), and now has a final installment. All three novels are set in the fictional Holt, Colorado, which is in the northeastern plains area, the less-glamorous part of the state, but one that Haruf makes memorable and important. He makes it matter, which is one thing the best writing does.
I’m about two-thirds through Benediction and don’t want to finish it, don’t want it to end, which is praise of the highest degree. Haruf sometimes gets dissed for being “too good hearted,” but I find his worldview to be in sync with mine, acknowledging that most people in the world have much goodness in them, and they often contend or deal with the sinister and destructive. He doesn’t moralize or point fingers, even though it’s obvious his fiction very much has a moral center. Remember John Gardner’s On Moral Fiction (1978)? You never hear of that idea anymore, that fiction should have a moral center, and not be just entertainment. I agree with that idea, even if I don’t use that as a qualification for any art, but an aesthetic quality that I think the best art usually has.
For instance, in Benediction there’s a preacher who gets in trouble in this small town for suggesting we should forgive terrorists and show them kindness instead of revenge and hatred. When he’s abused for stating his opinions, for insisting the teachings of Jesus should not be given only lip service, we the readers sympathize with both the preacher and the townspeople who are angered by his sermon. I remember the days after 9/11/2001 when many of my friends were hellbent on revenge and punishment, and though I could sympathize with their anger, I also knew nothing good would come of that, either—and it didn’t. It’s a beautifully written novel, with an ensemble cast of characters, and demonstrates Haruf’s position as one of the great Rocky Mountain writers, which I’m glad to be a part of.
And although we have to wait (until the fall!) for it, I’m psyched to hear that the Coen Brothers’s Inside Llewyn Davis got rave reviews at the Cannes Film Festival. They are my favorite film-makers, without a doubt, and a new film by them is a cause for rejoicing. I hate to have to wait that long, but at least Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight—another conclusion to a trilogy (Before Sunrise and Before Sunset being the first two, both fantastic films)—is due out this week. I’m seeing that next.

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