May 19, 2022
Goodness. The state of goodness. That’s what “beneficence” means, and this is what this book explores. “Love and all its costs.” (p. 251)
Doris, the mother of the family, opens the story, which is set on a farm in 1947, with these words:
Every morning, early, when Tup and I get up to start our chores, the whole house still quiet and the children asleep I turn and pull the bed together, tugging at the sheets to make them tight and smooth. They are warm with our heat. I slide my hand across the place my husband slept, drawing the blankets up and closing in the warmth, like a memory of us, until night comes when we will lie down together again.p. 5
A simple scene, but so evocative and so full. Of love and promise and commitment. Making the bed is a spiritual practice for Doris and also an expression of the dailiness and the goodness of her life.
Only a couple paragraphs later, however, Doris says, “You cannot know what will come.” She alerts the reader that this is no simple pastoral account of life on a farm, but this is a tale of what any family encounters one way or another. The love and the loss and the complicated responses to that loss.
It has been a long time since I have read a book that made me cry. This one did. More than once, and more than once I re-read paragraphs and even entire chapters, relishing the writing, but I also wanted to stay with these good, but imperfect people and to support them and honor them. They became real to me. In part that happens because the narration of the story changes in each chapter. Sometimes the father, Tup, is the narrator and sometimes the daughter, Dodie. There are two sons in the family, also, Sonny and Beston.
Almost at the end of the book, now 1965, Doris’s words echo the book’s beginnings.
The cows slept with their calves in the safety of the barn. The night offered all its promise. Tup and I moved to each other, our heat and our weight and our devotion. We slept without guard. There is never a going back. What we say and what we do stays, always. The great price of love and attachment is loss, with us every day. But here, too, each day, are their great easings.p. 257
I do hope Meredith Hall has another novel in progress. In the meantime I plan to read her memoir, Without a Map. And, I suspect, I will re-read Beneficence again for this book is good. Very good.
Have you read anything recently that made you cry? Or what about a book that you know you will want to read again? I would love to know.