I remembered hearing of the death of Kent Haruf in 2014, and having recently finished Benediction, and thus completed reading the Plainsong trilogy, I checked out some more details on the Picador website, this written by Paul Baggaley...
When I came to Picador six years ago there was one writer who seemed to unite all my colleagues in admiration and indeed in a determination to bring his work to readers. This was Kent Haruf, a writer whose beautifully restrained, deeply felt novels reflected a man of integrity, honesty and deep thoughtfulness. Haruf’s writing commanded utter devotion from all his readers and there was simply no writer more loved at Pan Macmillan. When he was chosen on the shortlist of the inaugural Folio Prize, there could not have been more delight that wider recognition might come to such a great writer and great man.
I believe that in the loose trilogy of Plainsong, Eventide and Benediction he produced one of the masterpieces of contemporary American fiction. These novels, set in the fictional Holt, Colorado, form one of the major achievements of contemporary American fiction, rivalling the great works of Cormac McCarthy, Richard Ford, Jane Smiley and Annie Proulx in creating a mythical modern American landscape. The quiet restraint of his writing belied his extraordinary ability to dissect the minutiae of relationships, no more so than in his heart-breakingly poignant final novel Our Souls at Night. This is a bold, brave and original view of a relationship between a man and a woman in advanced age who defy convention and is a fitting last word from an eloquent and inspiring writer.'
It all confirmed what Benediction had proved, that I had just read the most profoundly moving and beautifully written trilogy of books, the memory of which would stay with me forever. I don't think I feel that about quite so many books these days.
It is the same town, the same atmosphere and with that same sense of a real attachment to the people, but time has moved on. Whilst I was desperate for McPheron news I initially had to make do with the tiniest reference in a single sentence and from that create the back story of my own... Kent Haruf makes that entirely possible.
There are wrongs to be righted, reparations to be made and as Dad Lewis reaches the end of his days, forgiveness and acceptance become the watchwords in this final book. Threads, like gossamer filaments, drift in from previous books to be woven in, and I start to believe that I would know my way around Holt if I happened to pass through.
I'd find Dad Lewis's general store on Main Street and Rudy and Bob would be serving inside. We could do with a new lawn mower...
There would be the the Community Church on Birch Street with Reverend Lyle anguishing over his wife and teenage son, both missing their life in Denver. Rob Lyle messes up wherever he goes and Holt will be no different.
The Johnson women would be out at their house on Highway 34 thinking about missed opportunities and how to make up for them.
Berta May's granddaughter Alice would be out on her bike and worrying everyone
And there would be Mary Lewis looking after Dad Lewis, and sitting bedside would be their daughter Lorraine wondering what the future might hold and whether she has chosen the right man and whether she should take over running her dad's shop And maybe the absent son Frank would turn up out of the blue having left home at sixteen and never returned.
There will be some things Dad Lewis can never repair, and that's fine because life is like that, and a writer doesn't always have to make it possible just because he can.
This is about how a community lives and dies and life carries on. The wind will still blow in from the mountains across the high plains, and though they may be the winds of change Holt will feel them in its own good time thank you very much....not that different from village life in rural Devon maybe.
Two days before he died Kent Haruf finished that final book mentioned by Paul Baggaley, Our Souls at Night. It is apparently a return to Holt, and a wonderful interview with Kent's wife Cathy here convinces me (I don't need much convincing) that I absolutely most read it very soon.