Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Our Souls at Night, by Kent Haruf

Imagine that you are 70-year-old widowed Louis Waters; one evening Addie Waters, a widow of a similiar age whom you do not know well, despite having lived in the same small town for years, comes  over to ask  if you would be interested in sleeping with her. She's not asking for a sexual relationship--she wants someone to talk to and provide company in the lonely hours of the night. Would you agree?  Kent Haruf's Louis does agree, and he starts strolling over to Addie's home nearly every evening, setting tongues wagging in Holt.

The two share with each other the sadness and failures of their pasts (he had an affair, one of her children died, essentially killing her marriage) and begin to develop a deep friendship. Then Addie's daughter-in-law leaves Addie's son Gene, who decides their son should spend the summer with his grandmother. Jamie is a sad little boy, but Louis seems to understand what the boy needs, and he becomes a surrogate grandfather, bringing Jamie out of his shell. Gene, however, is not happy about his mother's relationship with Louis and makes his displeasure known in several unpleasant ways.  

There's a funny conversation in which Addie and Louis discuss the Denver Center's productions of  Haruf's novels about Holt--they are not overly impressed, but still buy tickets to attend Benediction.

This novella was written as Kent Haruf was dying, a fact that provided a melancholy subtext as I read the book, despite most of it being an affirmation of our shared humanity and the sustaining power of friendship. When the story became sad near the end, I was weeping (on a plane--embarrassing).  Somehow, with his spare prose, Haruf still manages to make you feel deeply what the characters are experiencing--and what they're experiencing feels very close to home. I will miss Holt, Colorado, and its residents, and I will miss Kent Haruf.

Favorite passages:

I got up and left the house and drove out in the country, the stars were all shining and there were the  farmlights and yardlights all looking blue in the dark. Everything looked normal, except nothing was normal anymore, everything was at some kind of cliff's edge . . .

I like the friendship of it. I like the time together. Being here in the dark of the night. The talking. Hearing you breathe next to me if I wake up.

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.

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