When an Author Dies

kent-harufThere’s something about reading a deeply moving book that forms a kinship between author and reader, even if they’ve never met.

This is the magic of literature.

A few years ago I found an old, dog-eared copy of Plainsong on a “Used Book” shelf at a thrift shop. It was 99 cents, so I grabbed it.

That book poked at a few nerves in me. It made me cry. I read it slowly, taking my time on particular passages that sang. One or two scenes made me angry, others were so tender and true that I almost couldn’t take them.

I read more of Haruf’s work. As I read, I felt like I knew the man through his characters in Holt, Colorado (where all of his novels are set). It’s that bond — I hope you’ve felt it while reading — that made me so excited for forthcoming novels from him.

Yesterday Kent Haruf passed away. He’d finished final edits on a novel that releases next summer. It’s sad. He was only 71. He wrote beauty and redemption and the grit of life. There is a void now in the world of fiction.

I never knew the man. Never shook his hand or heard his voice. Yet, I’m sad. One of my favorite novelists died.

When an author dies a little of the world becomes quiet. Even if that piece of existence was complete fiction, it’s still a world of meaning and feeling. Because, as imagined as the characters from Holt, Colorado were, they represented reality. The reality of a dysfunctional family trying to keep their kids from going into “the system”. Of a pair of bachelor brothers taking in a girl who is all alone in the world, save for the baby developing in her womb. Of a man raising his two boys in a world that seeks to kill innocence. A reality of gut wrenching suffering and tenderhearted mercy.

I’ve described Haruf’s stories as being “at one moment a kick in the ribs and the next the tenderness of an arm around the shoulders.”

If I had to give one reason to read Kent Haruf’s work, I would use one word: Redemption. Here’s what I said earlier this year…

“Here’s the thing. The redemption isn’t offered up on a platter with a sweet rose design along the edges. It was served up on a rusted bit of metal. The way I think true-to-life redemption commonly is. Because it isn’t the dish that matters. Not one bit. It’s the change, the salvation, the love.”

**NOTE: Kent Haruf’s books aren’t for everyone. They are full of difficult situations and harsh language. If your taste is more for fluff, you won’t find it in his novels. Also, if you chaff at worldly themes, he’s not for you. However, if you like a book that will make you feel and deeply, I dare you to read Plainsong or another of his stories. 

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