Holt, the fictional town where Haruf’s previous novels Plainsong and Eventide are also set, is a claustrophobic place, where secrets cannot be hidden, where the radio station loses advertising because the Reverend’s wife has absconded with its manager. Small-town spirit becomes Alice’s salvation. A wonderful scene in which she joins several women skinny-dipping in the cattle’s stock tank is suffused with an air of baptismal joy....Haruf’s deceptively simple writing is devoid of figurative language, yet his tone is strangely haunting. Sensual descriptions of landscape and weather create an impression of timelessness.
Benediction, shortlisted for Monday's Folio prize, is best read as the third of three novels linked by some recurrence of characters, but chiefly by the extraordinary presence of the town and its countryside, built up detail by detail in each book. They are three different stories, but they have cumulative power. The story of Benediction, like its title, suggests closure. But life in Holt is going to go right on, for the sense of continuity in time is as strong as the sense of location in place... Haruf is in fact a stunningly original writer in a great many ways. The quality of his originality goes right under the radar of much conventional criticism. He doesn't posture or raise his voice. He talks quietly, intimately, yet with reserve, as one adult to another. He's careful to get the story right. And it is right, it's just right; it rings true.
In “Benediction” change comes to Holt from the world outside, in the person of a firebrand minister from Denver. Working in his characteristic style — short sentences, short chapters and a round-robin point of view, with much ado about the weather — Haruf makes this story the subplot of the novel rather than the plot, a decision that renders “Benediction” an affecting but transitional work, a deft piece of fictional joinery...“Benediction” suggests there’s no end to the stories Haruf can tell about Holt or to the tough, gorgeous language he can summon in the process. But the prospect of another novel suggests the drawback of this one: like the characters, it’s genuine but incomplete, dependent on its companions and surroundings.