Our Souls At Night by Kent Haruf

51e0beCjILLOur Souls At Night

by Kent Haruf

One spring evening, Addie Moore makes a surprise visit to Louis Waters.  She is a seventy-year old widow who has been alone for twenty years; he is around the same age, and also a widower of many years.  Addie and Louis have been neighbors for over forty years, although they’ve never known each other very well.  But on this particular May evening, Addie makes a proposal to Louis –

“I wonder if you would consider coming to my house sometimes to sleep with me,” she asks him.

Louis, of course, is taken by surprise and is not sure what to say.  Finally, he agrees to think about it.  Gathering his nerve, he goes to Addie’s house the following evening.  And so begins a tender budding relationship.  It wasn’t about sex – sex isn’t even what either of them was after.  It was about having suffered loneliness for far too long – and loneliness is always worse at night.  Addie’s and Louis’s sleeping together was about companionship, about not being alone.

Their first few nights together are hesitant and tentative, but as they lie in the dark together talking and getting to know one another, sharing old sorrows and regrets and hopes, they grow more at ease with each other, and an intimate friendship and affection takes root.

In the small town of Holt, Colorado, the fictional setting of all of Kent Haruf’s novels, word gets around quickly that Louis is visiting Addie at night.  Some of the townspeople disapprove, and some approve wholeheartedly.  Complicating matters further, Addie’s son Gene, who is in an unstable marriage of his own, dumps his six-year old son on Addie for the summer.  Addie adores her grandson, and Louis and the young boy become quite attached to each other over the summer as well.  But when Gene discovers the relationship between Louis and Addie – which has grown past the point of furtive nighttime visits, and into a friendship that is carried on in broad daylight, and which is teetering on the precipice of romantic love – he is determined to put a stop to it.

Like all of Haruf’s other novels, Our Souls At Night is short in pages but long in heart.  This is a very poignant and tender story of loneliness, loss, and second chances.  I can’t say that I found the ending satisfying, but the story overall is a jewel.  It’s certainly worth the read in its own right, but especially if you’re a Kent Haruf fan, it’s a must read.  I was very sad to learn that Mr. Haruf died, and that I’ve now read everything he will ever write.

Benediction by Kent Haruf

416804-0snL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_ Benediction

by Kent Haruf

Dad Lewis is dying.  He and his wife of more than fifty years have just been told by Dad’s doctor that his cancer has spread through his body and is terminal.  He will likely not last out the summer.  As he steadily declines, the world keeps turning, the sun continues to rise and set every day, and the lives around him go on, with all of their dramas and heartbreaks, large and small.  And isn’t that the way of things?  Time never stops creeping forward, and one person’s decline towards death is insignificant in the larger context of the world, but everything within the intimate space of a family and a community.

The story is populated by a small parade of characters come in and out of focus: Mary Lewis, Dad’s wife, tender-hearted and utterly devoted; Lorraine, their middle-aged daughter, who has never gotten over the death of her teenaged daughter years previous; Berta Mae, the elderly woman who has lived next door to the Lewises for as long as anyone can remember; Alice, Beta Mae’s eight-year old granddaughter who has lost her own mother to breast cancer and has been taken in by Berta Mae; Reverend Lyle, the young, new preacher in town who has a strained relationship with his wife and son and ideas that the townspeople can’t accept; Willa and Alene Johnson, and elderly woman and her not-quite-elderly daughter who are each dealing with their own disappointments; and Frank, the Lewises’ son from whom they have been estranged for many years, and who is only present in flashbacks.  As Dad (so nicknamed decades before when he became a father) lays dying, more than his life flashing before him, regrets flash before him, slowly and steadily.

There are some books that leave me crying at the end; this one had me crying at the beginning.  There is a scene in the opening pages, shortly after Dad and Mary learn that he is terminal, when Mary collapses from exhaustion.  The depth of Dad’s distress and concern for his old, ailing wife just did me in.  There are so many scenes throughout the book – another in which the old Johnson women, middle-aged Lorraine, and young Alice go skinny dipping in a stock tank – I know it sounds like it would be a hilarious scene, but it was so moving, the tears were just flowing.

Kent Haruf is one of the very best authors I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading; I have read all of his books except two, and have loved every one of them.  This one is no exception.  Tender and stark, a story about life and living every bit as much as it is about death and dying.

Five big, fat stars.