The Dry and Benediction

We had brisk temps all week, but it now looks to be improving, and by Valentine’s Day on Tuesday, it could reach 50F. How heartwarming! That will trigger a massive melt off of snow here.

I’m traveling this weekend and will be having a reunion of sorts, with a couple friends in the San Francisco area, which I’m excited about. So I will leave you with a few brief reviews of what I finished last week. Oh, and many of you know my trusty book assistant and walking partner by now, Stella, pictured at left. She was almost attacked by a coyote this week while we were walking in the hills. Luckily she got away from it after a scuffle and ran back to me. It was a scary situation — and I didn’t know what would happen — but thankfully she is okay and in one piece. Gave me a slight heart attack at the time, but we have learned from this, I hope.

The Dry by Jane Harper: published by Flatiron Books, Jan. 2017, 320 pages

What it’s about: (culled from the publisher’s synopsis and me)

Federal agent Aaron Faulk returns to his small, struggling farming town in Australia for the first time in decades after the apparent murder-suicide of his best friend Luke and his family. Only things don’t add up when Faulk begins poking around, and he begins to wonder if Luke’s death is connected to something that happened twenty years ago when they were both teenagers. Set amid severe drought conditions, the novel follows Faulk and the local detective as they try to piece together what happened to Luke, his wife, and son.

My thoughts:

This is a slow burn of a murder mystery that despite the time it takes developing never seems to wan. I was interested in the story and the main character Falk’s unraveling of it the whole way. It starts with the gruesome deaths of three family members at a farm house, which the police conclude was a murder-suicide, but was it? Falk begins to poke around, while his thoughts become infused with the days he spent there in his youth with his father and friends. He starts having flashbacks, which are intermingled and italicized frequently throughout the story. I know some readers didn’t care for this, but it didn’t put me off too much, as some interesting things, linked to the present case, are divulged amid the flashbacks; it’s just the italics that  got a bit annoying.

But there’s not really a break in the murder case until quite late in the novel. I guess I was expecting more of a “thriller” type pace to the story, though the developments in it kept me engaged. It has a great Australian setting too. I could feel the dryness and the farming town’s struggles from drought, which are evocatively rendered in the novel. I thought I knew who the killer was long before the end, but it takes a turn and I was wrong about who it was. “The Dry” is well done by debut author Jane Harper, and it has an intriguing storyline. I gave it 4 stars on Goodreads.

Benediction by Kent Haruf — published by Knopf, Feb. 2013, 258 pages

This novel, which I listened to as an audiobook, is set in the same small town of Holt, Colorado, as were the author’s previous novels “Plainsong” from 1999, and “Eventide” from 2004, but this one involves different characters. I had read “Plainsong” long ago and this is my second of Kent Haruf’s books, though I’d like to eventually read them all. Unfortunately he passed away in 2014 and will be greatly missed. His last novel “Our Souls at Night,” published in 2015, was well liked across the blogosphere and one I hope to get to.

What it’s bout: (culled from the publisher’s synopsis and me)

This novel is centered around Dad Lewis, a 77-year-old hardware store owner who’s just been diagnosed with terminal cancer. He and wife Mary work to make his final days comfortable, while their daughter Lorraine returns home from Denver to help care for him. But Mary and Dad can’t locate their estranged son Frank, to let him know, and his presence is sorely missed. The story also involves a young girl next door, who is being raised by her grandmother after the death of her mother, and the town’s newly arrived minister, who faces disdain after a particular sermon doesn’t go over well.

My Thoughts:

I felt for the dying Dad Lewis in this book and his family, friends, and the community of Holt. He is a codger and sort of a grump, but it seems to be because of his life and how he grew up. As he comes to grips with his diagnosis, you sense the realizations he’s going through and his regrets in life — why he wasn’t a more loving person, particularly to his children, neighbors, and employees.

“Benediction” is a story about life and death, people’s regrets, and the ties that bind us. Although it’s a quiet and relatively simple story (and may not be for everyone), I got caught up in its cast of characters, who seem very real and are all going through different things and emotions. Kent Haruf is a master of writing about small towns, families, and communities— and seemingly can do it perhaps better than anyone else. I’m slightly reminded of author Alice Munro, who’s books are often filled with similar kinds of towns and people. Also the small town feel of “Benediction” made me think a bit of Elizabeth Strout’s “Olive Kitteridge,” but perhaps it’s less quirky than that. Listening to this story was another winner for me, and I gave it 4 stars on Goodreads.

Lastly this week, I saw the movie “Lion,” which is a Best Picture Academy Award nominee, and I must say it is quite excellent. I wonder if it surpasses “Manchester by the Sea” for me in terms of which one I liked better, though I know both are high on my list. “Lion” is based on a true story about a five-year-old Indian boy who gets lost from his village and winds up thousands of miles from home. Eventually he is adopted by an Australian couple and grows up there. Then 25 years later he sets off to find his biological Indian family.

This is a powerful movie and will pull at your heart strings along the way. It’s an amazing story, and I actually have the book, which the movie is based on, that I was hoping to read first. But Oops! I got to the movie first. The cinematography is also pretty great, as well as the actors in it. Might “Lion” win Best Picture? Or is it not hyped enough as the others?

What about you — have you read these books are seen this movie — and if so, what did you think?

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28 Responses to The Dry and Benediction

  1. Viv says:

    So happy Stella girl is okay!!! Loved Manchester by the Sea, Loved Lion!!! Enjoying your weekly posts Susan!

    • Susan Wright says:

      Thanks Vivienne. Those two movies are my favs so far. And let’s hope Stella & I don’t go through that ever again. We will stay away from Nose Hill for a long while. Too many coyotes are lurking up there.

  2. We’ve basically decided to skip winter this year down here, at least so far. It would be okay with me if it stays this way.

    Both of your books sound terrific!

  3. Brian Joseph says:

    I have heard such good things about Kent Haruf. I want to read him. It seems that he is very good at writing simple stories. As O get older, I am liking this kind of book more and more.

    • Susan Wright says:

      Yeah Kent Haruf is a gem, nothing fancy but stories that have resonance. I feel like I want to go back and reread all of his novels in order. I hope you will like him.

  4. John Wright says:

    Stella–don’t pat the wildlife!

    • Susan Wright says:

      Yeah. I thought things were dire, I was running to get to her but the snow was deep and I fell flat downhill; we were on Nose Hill which has become filled with deer and coyotes, and it’s been dangerous. The lone big coyote was running full steam after the deer but then they diverted and it was coming straight for Stella. Did it think she was one of them? Stella was coming back to me but it intersected her, and I couldn’t see her for 15 secs after that which was really scary. I think she scuffled with it and ran to me. thank goodness.

  5. Carmen says:

    Both books sound interesting. I still haven’t seen either movie; they are not out for rent yet but soon…

  6. Naomi says:

    Oh, poor Stella (and poor you!). I’m glad she’s okay.

    My parents saw Lion and loved it!
    The only Haruf I’ve read is Our Souls at Night – I thought it was great and would love to read more!

    • Susan Wright says:

      Thanks Naomi. Do you ever have trouble with coyotes or wildlife near where you live? I thought Stella was toast for a couple moments, but she’s okay; thank goodness. Yeah the movie Lion is pretty uplifting and also a bit stunning. And I want to read Haruf’s Our Souls at Night too. Everyone seemed to really like it.

  7. Rachel says:

    I’m so glad your dog is okay – I can’t even imagine how scary that would have been.

    I thought Lion was a great adaptation of the book. I haven’t seen Manchester by the Sea so I don’t know which one is better but I think Manchester has definitely been hyped more. It would be a big upset if Lion won best picture but never say never! I know I definitely don’t think La La Land should win. It was a good movie but I don’t think it’s Best Picture caliber.

    • Susan Wright says:

      Thanks Rachel, lucky that my dog is in one piece. Have you seen the movie Moonlight? I saw and liked it but I didn’t exactly think it was Best Picture, but it’s gotten a lot of hype and I wonder if it might win? Hmm. I sort of want Lion to win Best Picture. And I still plan to read the book. Manchester was good though.

  8. Oh, coyotes are terrible creatures! When I lived in the foothills, our outdoor cats started disappearing one by one…we knew that the coyotes were the culprits. (We tried to keep the cats indoors, but somehow they managed to escape!).

    Speaking of culprits, I was also surprised that my “pick” in The Dry was not the perp.

    I’m curious about Benediction, which sounds good.

    I haven’t read Lion, but I’m sure I’ll see the movie at some point. Here are MY WEEKLY UPDATES

    • Susan Wright says:

      Thanks Laurel. Yeah this one park area in town is getting too many coyotes here and it’s dangerous for my dog. We’ve had close calls before. So we will avoid there for now. I’m glad we both read The Dry at the same time; fun to compare notes. You’ll like the movie Lion I think. cheers.

  9. Bryan says:

    I did read The Dry and you already know my thoughts on it. 🙂 I’ve never read any Kent Haruf, but maybe should. I think you’re probably right with Lion that it hasn’t been hyped enough like the others. I hadn’t even heard of Lion, but to be fair, I hadn’t heard of a lot of them.

    • Susan Wright says:

      Hi Bryan, yeah I thought you had an astute observation about The Dry; I didn’t mind the flashbacks but the italics were a bit much, I agree. I think so far all the movie hype has been going to Moonlight or maybe Manchester. But I wouldn’t mind if Lion snuck in for the win.

  10. I liked Our Souls at Night very much (put it on a list of fav romances for a Tuesday post, in fact). Thanks for sharing these reviews, especially Benediction. I need to look for that one.

    • Susan Wright says:

      Thanks Deb, Yeah I heard such good things about Our Souls at Night and I think I will get to it this year. I enjoy his writing.

  11. I didn’t realize that LION was based on a book which I just saw the other day at COSTCO. Now I am torn. Should I quickly go see the movie before the Academy Awards or should I try to cram in the book and then go see the movie, which might not be in theaters any longer. Argh. So many decisions.

    Have a fun time in San Fran!
    My Sunday Salon

    • Susan Wright says:

      Hi Anne, thanks. San Fran has been fun. 3 clear days down here, no rain! I wondered the same thing about Lion, but I’d go ahead & see the movie then read the book! I usually do that in opposite order but there’s no time. ha.

  12. Plainsong, Eventide, and Our Souls at Night were all wonderful. Not sure why I’ve never read Benediction, I certainly meant to. Haruf will be missed. Glad Stella is okay – what a scary experience!

    • Susan Wright says:

      Thanks JoAnn. Yeah I wouldn’t mind reading all of Haruf’s books in order. It’s been so long since Plainsong I don’t remember it. I think you’d like Benediction, if you liked the others.

  13. Judy Krueger says:

    Ooh coyotes! I have lost three cats to those hungry, displaced animals. They come down from the mountains, howl in what we call “coyote frenzy” at night and we know they have made a kill. So glad you did not lose your dog.
    That Australian mystery sounds good to me. I have never read an Australian writer I did not love.
    I have not seen Lion or Manchester yet, but looking forward to both.
    Have a good time in SF!!

    • Susan Wright says:

      Hi Judy, just got back from SF, good times! A short but sweet trip; blue skies there too. Yeah I sympathize with how the coyotes took your cats! We had that growing up there. Ugh. So painful. If they took my dog, I was ready to wage all out war on them. It was broad daylight, just a lone coyote that I saw but it ran right at my dog. She got away though, thankfully. I hope you get to see those films. I still need to see a few others before Oscar night.

  14. Catherine says:

    I read and adored Benediction. So sad that there will be no more Kent Haruf books. I found his work to be deeply touching- so much conveyed in simplicity.

    I haven’t seen Lion, but am going to try and see Moonlight this week. I saw Hidden Figures last week and it was so good!

    • Susan Wright says:

      Hi Catherine, so glad you liked Benediction. Yeah his work is quite touching. I found it sad they couldn’t find their son in the story. ugh. I’m curious what you’ll think of Moonlight. It’s a bit potent and sad.

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