OUR SOULS AT NIGHT by Kent Haruf

My hot reading streak in January continued with Kent Haruf’s final novel, Our Souls At Night. Addie and Louis are single, in their early 70s, living in a small Colorado town near Denver named Holt. Both lost their longterm spouses within the last few years. One night, Addie appears on Louis’ doorstep with a proposition: she is lonely, and suspects he is too, and wonders if he would like to come over and night and sleep in her bed. She’s not suggesting a physical relationship, just companionship at night.

Louis is surprised, but intrigued, and decides to give it a try. The two embark on a sweet, gentle relationship in which they reveal their true, flawed selves to each other, acknowledging mistakes they made in their marriages and their disappointments in their lives. Not only do they accept each other as is, they genuinely enjoy each other’s company. This is a grownup, realistic relationship, one without expectations or delusions of forever.

Their quiet routine – which has attracted the attention of their small town – is disrupted when Addie’s young grandson Jamie comes to stay with her while his parents navigate a separation. Addie and Louis absorb Jamie into their lives, providing him with love and stability while their relationship deepens around him. Sadly, Jamie’s father, Addie’s son Gene, distrusts Louis and puts pressure on his mother to stop spending time with him.

There is a melancholy that pervades Our Souls At Night, turning the sweet moments bittersweet. It is not surprising that Kent Haruf was himself dying as he wrote Our Souls At Night; mortality and looking back on one’s life are pervasive themes. (And the ending is simply heartbreaking.)

I loved Haruf’s spare, quiet writing, his depiction of simple scenes that carry deep meaning and significance. I can’t believe I haven’t read anything else by him before – I am going to add some of his other Holt-set books to my list this year. What a lovely book this was.

One caveat – no quotation marks! Annoying.

6 Comments

  • Dick Shohet
    February 1, 2019 - 9:15 am | Permalink

    Gail: I taught a four one and a half hour course to adults on the Haruf novel for adult ed last spring. I was so moved by the novel–what a genuinely creative but simple idea–spun out in something less than two hundred pages as I recall. We kept the class small, maybe a dozen oldies like me. That the novelist states the idea at the outset reminds one of Hawthorne’s amazing short story “Wakefield.” Your treatment of Haruf’s last and speculation about the role of his own mortality likely during the writing were right on target. Good stuff. Dick

    • gayle
      February 3, 2019 - 2:54 pm | Permalink

      Thanks! I am glad you read my review!

  • techeditor
    February 1, 2019 - 1:38 pm | Permalink

    I read this quite a while ago and had no idea that Haruf wrote this while he was dying. That makes me want to reread it because I wasn’t happy with the book. I looked for excuses to put it down. I was angry with the author for writing such ridiculousness: Addie’s and Louis’s adult children reprimanding them, both in their 70s, for wanting to be together at night. RIDICULOUS!

    To make matters worse, Haruf used punctuation marks sparingly and quotation marks not at all. I think of that as regressing to the time before people thought readability was important enough to invent those marks.

    • gayle
      February 3, 2019 - 2:53 pm | Permalink

      It does seem ridiculous, but perhaps because they were in a small town and her son had leverage (time with the grandson) she felt she had no choice.

  • Elisabeth
    February 3, 2019 - 1:57 pm | Permalink

    I enjoyed all of Haruf’s books. I understand books cannot always end the way you want them to, but it really bothers me the way that Haruf chose to go. This book would make a good movie.

    • gayle
      February 3, 2019 - 2:52 pm | Permalink

      It WAS made into a movie! Jane Fonda and Robert Redford. I think it came out a few years ago.

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