This summer, I went to visit novelist Kent Haruf at his house in Salida, Colorado, to talk about writing and life and death. Not quite a year before, Haruf had been diagnosed with a terminal lung disease. He was in hospice care, and I had not known what to expect when he invited me to come.
Reading Edwidge Danticat’s novel Claire of the Sea Light is like swimming through a gentle tide in a body of water known for riptides. The feeling that something invisible, fierce, and irreparable is just under the surface never quite leaves the corner of the reader’s mind.
The story traces relational ties in Ville Rose, a small coastal village town in Haiti.
All three of Kent Haruf’s novels set in the fictional farming town of Holt, Colorado, bear liturgical-sounding titles: Plainsong (1999), Eventide (2004) and now Benediction. Many of their characters are looking for a benediction: a good word of connection, closure, forgiveness or security.
“Anyone who reads independently and spiritedly is going to carry an eclectic canon around in his head,” writes Christian Wiman. “That is half the fun of it all.”
For the past five years or so, I have had the responsibility of coming up with the novels to put on the Century’s list of Christmas picks for fiction. At first I was baffled by this job. Did I have to read every new book?
The title of Nathaniel Philbrick’s slim new meditation foregrounds the questions at the heart of every assignment made by every English teacher: Why read this book? Or that book? For that matter, why do we assign reading in the first place?
These days it’s a rare novel that addresses disturbing social issues without flinching and treats religious faith as a force for good, without denying the complexity of either. That combination makes Rachel Simon’s book, newly available in paperback, a pleasure to read and a fine choice for book clubs.