Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf (2015)
5 of 5 stars on Goodreads
I’d read in the Wall Street Journal some months ago, that Kent Haruf’s last book, Our Souls at Night, was inspired by the late night talks he and his wife would have as they lay next to each other in the dark. That sweet concept rushed it to my TBR list and I’m thankful to have read such an incredible vignette of life. Haruf passed away in November, 2014, leaving behind this gem. He’d written the first draft in less than two months and the completed manuscript was delivered to him less than a week before he died. After he was diagnosed with a terminal lung disease, he fought against it with the need to write this story. Upon learning that, I had to read it and I’m so grateful that I have. It was an elegy to aging, relationships, parenting, life, and most definitely, love.
I must say that after I finished reading it, the aching thought, which surprisingly hit me after going through much of the beauty there, was “some people are just assholes”. They are and there’s one prominent one in the book that shatters everyhthing. it’s no different that real life. One person can do that. Haruf’s point was subtle and soft, yet tremendously loud and clear.
Addie Moore and Louis Waters, both widowed and in their 70s, had been neighbors for years. However, they didn’t really know each other very well. He was her son’s high school English teacher and she was a friend of his wife’s before his wife had become very ill. One night, Addie walks two houses down to his, rings his doorbell, and asks him if he’d like to come over to her house at night and sleep with her. Yep – just what I wrote – just what she said – to sleep with her.
“I’m talking about getting through the night,” she says. “And lying warm in bed, companionably. Lying down in bed together and you staying the night. The nights are the worst. Don’t you think?”
“Yes. I think so,” he says.
Naturally, he was shocked and caught off guard as she’d stood in his doorway, but sure enough, later that night he showed up at her house with his pajamas and toothbrush in a brown bag. They lay next to one another each night, just talking, revealing secrets, thoughts, regrets, you name it -and one of the most lovely, touching, and true friendships soon unfolded within the pages of this short novel. It was just beautiful to read. In spite of the fact that I tore through it in less than a day, I wanted to take it slowly, but I couldn’t. Even though I’d started reading it after midnight, it wasn’t an easy book to set down. I was up for hours; I didn’t want to leave them and I didn’t want them to leave me. I cried to the heavens as it reached the confounded direction it had taken. It wasn’t at all unbelievable either, which made it sad and more damning. None of his twists and turns (and there were many – the mark of a great storyteller) were unbelievable. This was simply life in pages and no matter how much control you may think you have, you’re sometimes gravely reminded by circumstances and people that you don’t have shit. [Yes, I’m still fuming!] Addie and Louis – in their older ages, when you’d think they’d seen enough and all – were given such a lesson.
I’ve never read Haruf’s Plainsong trilogy nor his other acclaimed works, set primarily in Holt, Colorado – his fictitious town within his home state (brings to mind Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County in Mississippi). It’s filled with children, grandchildren, neighbors, long-time friends, and general patrons that make up a small, nosy town. Just as he captures humanity, he captured the grace of nature out west under the eye of the Rocky Mountains. Just as I saw the stars overhead he described, I felt the cool of the night, and saw the beautiful blue of the stream. I even saw their neighborhood and houses with their respective layouts so aptly described unwrapped for us to see. Our Souls at Night seems to speak in the same soft, yet meaty volume and tenor that led many readers to keep his books off the shelf when I was working in the library, so I now understand his following.
It’s a short, sweet, quite bittersweet, and simply honest read. It’s also harsh and beautiful. If you love family life fiction, this is the one for you.
(Oh, by the by – Just read that Robert Redford and Jane Fonda will do an adaptation of this book for Netflix. With them, I’m sure it’ll be a hit, but I’m quite happy I read it first… I simply suggest you do the same! Get Haruf’s tale as he told it firsthand.)