Benediction, by Kent Haruf

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. They try to find it by risking neighborly assistance, maintaining shaky vows of faithfulness, or offering sexual favors and long-withheld acts of kindness and friendship. Basic human longings stand out amid the quiet streets and within the broad expanses of impassive prairie and cultivated fields that stretch out like an American eternity: the fruited plain.

Seen from a small town, the city of Denver shines in the distance as a kind of mother ship, offering the cover and comfort of a large and more diverse population. Pilgrims and exiles come to Holt, even as entrapped souls try to flee the spare streets and social exposure of the small town for the comfort and anonymity of the big city.

The social edges of Holt are untrimmed and unraveled. Living simple lives, the citizens of the town hide emotional wounds and physical bruises. Despair blows in on them as if from the plains. Haruf makes us feel their pain.