OUR SOULS AT NIGHT
Published posthumously, Our Souls at Night is Kent Haruf’s final novel about a fictional community in eastern Colorado. Each of his books takes place in Holt, a small town where everybody seems to know everyone else. Each differs in that it centers on a new set of main characters. Together, Haruf’s six stand-alone novels give the reader a full portrait of contemporary middle America, conveying the energies and the enervation, the hopes and the fears, the strength and the weaknesses, of flyover country.
Our Souls at Night features an older generation, a lonely widow and a solitary widower in their early seventies who somewhat precipitously decide to sleep together, not as lovers, but as friends. Written in crisp but sparse prose, the novel replicates their midnight conversations. Even when the story moves to daytime scenes, the language remains the same, as if the two were talking cheek to cheek. They share an emotional intimacy rather than a physical one, building a richness that encircles their lives.
Addie and Louis’s conversations cover a spectrum of familial subjects. They tell each other about their respective spouses, confessing their own weaknesses as partners and parents. They recount the deaths of their spouses. Louis’s wife died in hospice care after a lingering and painful illness, while Addie’s husband dropped dead in the midst of a church service. They discuss their adult children, too, adult children who later appear in Our Souls at Night to confront their aging parents about the small town scandal the “affair” appears to be. Addie’s grandson vacations at her house for a time, which adds another dimension to his grandmother’s relationship with Louis.
As the friendship intensifies between Addie and Louis, the laconic tone continues. Reading their exchanges, I tried to imagine my own long-widowed grandmother in such a situation or my parents. Would they so involve themselves? Would they talk this way? I think the answer is yes, a positive answer that is a measure of Haruf’s success. This reader, at least, trusts Haruf’s creative voice, as Addie and Louis’s engagement with one another deepens from page to page. Would I have come to the same conclusion if I were thirty years younger? Perhaps not. Now, however, I am of Addie and Louis’s generation. I can relate to their conduct and their conversations, their shared consolations.
Most important, I would call Our Souls at Night a novel of possibilities, one of meaningful love without lust, of affection with ageless affirmation. It is also a novel about old age itself, about lost chances, about happiness and loss. Despite its emphases on aging, I found it life-affirming, freezing the past and freeing the future. A book to make the reader smile, maybe shed a tear or two, then smile anew, Our Souls at Night is absolutely charming. – Ann Ronald
Also available by Kent Haruf: Plainsong; Benediction; Eventide; The Tie that Binds; Where You Once Belonged