By Randy Kraft
This year is almost over so I won’t wait for a pairing to review this gorgeous work of fiction. A novel sadly overlooked by many reviewers and by many of the “best of” lists, and which should be on everyone’s radar.
A story about connections made, and lost, and about healing from grief, but unlike any novel dealing with this subject that I’ve read. This is a novel where love survives grief, albeit barely. The unusually insular Senter family (parents and three children) works the farm together, reads and studies together, shares in all of life’s joys as if one. The land is their anchor. They need nothing more, but their lives are suddenly shattered, the whole less than its parts.
Stories don’t go away, I have learned that. Whatever happens is with us forever. Whatever has happened in this house and in this room is with us forever. That other life endures in these walls, all of it. We are a family. We love each other deeply. We will return to ourselves. We hold to that longing.
It is mid-century. A different time, still in the shadow of WWII. Beneficence is an American value, no more so than in the heartland. Beneficence means the doing of good – active goodness or kindness. The Senters are kind people, to each other and to the flora and fauna on their farm in Maine. When tragedy strikes, they remain kind. They adapt. They also make poor choices and they make mistakes, for which they suffer. Still, they lean on each other and on the land.
The farm is a bulwark, I taught my children. This world, and then the world outside. We are safe on this land in this home. Once gained, we can never turn from knowledge and its burdens. But we can find order here, and the freedom to love fiercely all we know.
Never have I read a novel, with the exception of Jane Smiley’s A Thousand Acres, which would make a perfect pairing, that evokes the land as a living breathing entity unto itself, beyond being the platform for human life.
…we were able to look down across the green brilliance of the pasture, over the fence line and the road, a lazy brown ribbon, and across to our house, a miniature of itself now, far off in the distance, and the shining white barn. The cows in the far pasture seemed to stand still in the shimmering June sun, a photograph of a moment caught forever. The crowns of the crow trees swayed at eye level as if swept b the flow of a quiet river, the new leaves turning light, dark, light, dark in the breeze.
Your heart will swell and ache for this family. You might envy the profound connection between them and to their environs. You will marvel at the prose. You will marvel at the challenges of the farming life few of us understand or appreciate. This is a novel to read slowly, every word perfectly placed and every character deserving of our attention. A thoughtful homage to another time and lifestyle with universal themes.
We ride this little planet with all its sorrow and all its love and all its beauty and all its hard mysteries. There is not time to waste. Learning love is, I think, why we have this inexplicable chance, these few years on earth.
In addition to A Thousand Acres, My Antonia by Willa Cather would be another good companion to read. Both grounded in the heartland.
Beneficence is in hardcover still or for your favorite e-reader. Happy reading. Happy holidays.