Review – Our Souls at Night

Our Souls at Night

 

  • Publisher: Vintage (May 26, 2015)
  • Publication Date: May 26, 2015
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English

 

Amazon

From the publisher:

In the familiar setting of Holt, Colorado, home to all of Kent Haruf’s inimitable fiction, Addie Moore pays an unexpected visit to a neighbor, Louis Waters. Her husband died years ago, as did his wife, and in such a small town they naturally have known of each other for decades; in fact, Addie was quite fond of Louis’s wife. His daughter lives hours away, her son even farther, and Addie and Louis have long been living alone in empty houses, the nights so terribly lonely, especially with no one to talk with. But maybe that could change? As Addie and Louis come to know each other better–their pleasures and their difficulties–a beautiful story of second chances unfolds, making Our Souls at Night the perfect final installment to this beloved writer’s enduring contribution to American literature.

Review:

I made up my mind I’m not going to pay attention to what people think. I’ve done that too long—all my life. I’m not going to live that way anymore.

I’ve been a fan of Kent Haruf’s writing ever since I read Plainsong when I lived in Germany many years ago. Maybe it was the dreary winters, the constant busyness of a young, stay at home mother juxtaposed with the loneliness of being an expat in a foreign country, but his novels spoke to my state of mind at the time. It is no coincidence that this was my Raymond Carver/Denis Johnson period. I was drawn to writers who stripped their prose bare, their streamlined narrative full of subtext. Like the low skies and barren landscapes of a cold day in Erlangen, the emotional life of the novel lay below the surface of pragmatic prose and simple sentence structures.

I’m clearly in another place in my readings these days, so that this reading was pregnant with nostalgia. Not unlike Addie and Louis who, also designing a pragmatic solution to the solitude of their late years, launch into an affair of companionship and memory, where their comfort in each other is simultaneously the excitement of a newly discovered experience coupled with the familiarity of a life, if not shared, at least experienced along parallel lines that only rarely converged on the peripheries.

Addie and Louis are widow and widower to others, respectively. Their age means they are now supporting actors in the lives of their loved ones – Addie’s son and grandson and Louis’s daughter. Addie, unable to sleep at night, proposes a solution to their loneliness by inviting Louis to sleep next to her. She tells him it isn’t about sex, but about getting through the night. After some hesitation, Louis agrees, embarking on a relationship that surprises their neighbors and dismays their children.

I do love this physical world. I love this physical life with you. And the air and the country. The backyard, the gravel in the back alley. The grass. The cool nights. Lying in bed talking with you in the dark.

This idea that the ability to care and nurture others is not exhausted with age is a prominent one in this novel, exemplified by the Addie and Louis, but also further explored in Addie and Louis’s relationship with her grandson, Jamie. Abandoned by his mother and left with a father overwhelmed by the failure of both his marriage and his business, Jamie is left with Addie until his family life is sorted out. Many of the insights into helping Jamie come from Louis as they established a mini family unit of lonely people who find comfort and belonging with each other.

Who would have thought at this time in our lives that we’d still have something like this. That it turns out we’re not finished with changes and excitements. And not all dried up in body and spirit.

There are simply not enough stories about deep relationships, much less love, between older couples. Though we live in progressive societies, the infantilization of the elderly is very common, as if the desire for connection, for the excitement of knowing a new person deeply bears an expiration date.  I enjoyed the development of Addie and Louis’s intimacy. Being of a certain age and knowing each other, at least superficially, for so long, there is a kind of short-hand to their intimacy that is paralleled in the paired-down narration.

I just want to live simply and pay attention to what’s happening each day.

Addie and Louis’s connection is firmly rooted in the natural world. Very little in the way of religious sentimentality is present in the novel. Even Louis’s ideas of the afterlife harken to the Romantic belief in man’s connection to nature (I’ve come to believe in some kind of afterlife. A return to our true selves, a spirit self. We’re just in this physical body till we go back to spirit). Many of their shared experiences take place during excursions to the mountains or camping in the woods, experiences that include Jamie.  Haruf equates human connection with nature, placing this need on par with the most fundamental needs of human survival.

People need each other, not in a superficial way. We can spend an entire lifetime creating fragile bonds that turn brittle and dried up by habit or neglect. Haruf’s novel shows us that we not only need to connect, but that we are capable of this communion long into the twilight of our lives.

 

 

 

 

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