Sunday, June 21, 2015

"Our Souls at Night," by Kent Haruf

I was very sad to hear of author Kent Haruf’s death in November 2014 (see my post of 12/4/14). But I was happy to hear that we loyal readers would have one more chance to enter his world, mostly situated in the town of Holt, Colorado, through his posthumously published last novel, completed shortly before his death, “Our Souls at Night” (Knopf, 2015). This is a short novel, one that I read in maybe two hours, but it is a deeply humane and deeply satisfying one. As with his other novels, including “Benediction,” which I wrote about here on 1/1/14, it is deceptively simple, with a beguilingly original premise. Addie, a woman of about 70, visits her neighbor Louis, a man of the same age. Both are widowed. She makes the proposal that he come to her house every night and sleep and talk with her. She is not suggesting a sexual relationship (although sex ultimately enters the picture) but would like the warmth and connection provided by sleeping and conversing together. He is surprised; although they have both lived in the small town of Holt for a long time, and of course know each other, they haven’t been particularly close before. But he is also lonely, and agrees. They carry out the plan, and develop a close, supportive and happy relationship. They ignore some judgmental town gossip about their relationship, and soon it becomes unimportant; some people even quietly support and even envy them. Both their lives open up to more human connection and some mild adventures (trips, picnics and other outings together). In particular, when Addie’s grandchild Jamie comes to stay with her, the three of them – Addie, Louis, and Jamie – develop a close relationship. Unfortunately Addie’s somewhat troubled adult son Gene (father of Jamie) can’t accept her relationship with Louis, and so their relationship is threatened. This novel provides a sensitive treatment of age, loneliness, the importance of human connections, and the complications of family relationships. I won’t, of course, reveal the ending, but will reveal that it is bittersweet. When I closed the book, I again mourned the loss of author Kent Haruf at the age of only 71, and the loss of the possibility of more of his quietly insightful and beautifully written novels. Words like “shy,” “humble,” “muted,” and “tender” are used about the author and his writing; I agree, but hope that such adjectives do not cause potential readers to underestimate or dismiss this gifted writer. To anyone who has not yet discovered this author, I suggest starting with his 1999 “breakthrough” bestseller novel, “Plainsong,” continuing with “Eventide,” “Benediction,” and then “Our Souls at Night.” Or if you like the above description of “Our Souls at Night,” start with that, and I am pretty sure you will want to go back and read all his novels, including the two that preceded “Plainsong.” In any case, I urge you to read this wonderful writer if you haven’t already.
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