Kent Haruf: Our Souls At Night (2015)


Our Souls At Night, Kent Haruf’s last and posthumously published novel, is a work of sheer beauty. It’s so beautiful in fact, that if there wasn’t also a heavy dose of heartbreak, it would have been too beautiful for its own good.

This is how it begins

And there was the day when Addie Moore made a call on Louis Waters. It was an evening in May just before full dark.

They lived a block apart on Cedar Street in the oldest part of town with elm trees and hackberry and a single maple grown up along the curb and green lawns running back from the sidewalk to the two-story houses. It had been warm in the day but it had turned off cool now in the evening. She went along the sidewalk under the trees and turned in at Louis’s house.

Addie Moore and Louis Waters are both in their seventies and have been widowed for a long time. One evening, Addie calls on Louis and asks him if he wouldn’t like to spend the nights at her house. The reader is just as surprised as Louis, as it’s clear from the start that these two people barely know each other. Addie correctly assumes that Louis is just as lonely as she is and that for him, too, it’s hardest at night.

No, not sex. I’m not looking at it that way. I think I’ve lost any sexual impulse a long time ago. I’m talking about getting through the night. And lying warm in bed, companionably.Lying down in bed together and you staying at night. The nights are the worst. Don’t you think?

Louis accepts her proposal. At first, they are shy but they quickly warm to the possibility of friendship and after getting to know each other better, after many evenings spent in bed talking, they even fall in love with each other.

It’s such a tender story and I loved it very much. When I started reading, I thought it was a lovely idea to tell the love story of two seventy-year-olds and could hardly believe that people called this novel sad and depressing. Unfortunately, I soon found out that it wasn’t as uplifting as I thought it was.

I often wonder, why people speak unkindly about people who fall in love later in life. Why do they oppose it so much? In Our Souls At Night, Haruf explores some of the possible reasons. The book starts almost like a fairy tale. Addie and Louis have found something very rare – a person they can love and talk to, a friend with whom they can discover things and find new joy in life. They do a lot of things they never did before or haven’t done in a long time, like camping or just going out. All would be perfect if there were no other people, but those around Addie and Louis, don’t react kindly. Neighbours, children, so-called friends, are shocked and try to sabotage their friendship and throw mud at them. The tragedy of these two lovers is that, just like very young people, they are dependent on others and staying together comes at a very high price. Whether they are able and willing to pay that price I’m not going to tell you. You’ll have to find out for yourself.

I loved the story, which is first sweet then bittersweet, but what I loved even more was the beautiful, luminous writing. In most of his sentences Kent Haruf uses the conjunction “and”. Not only once but often two, three, even four times. This gives his sentences a leisurely pace, a gentle, tone that works so well with the peaceful fictional small town, Holt, his favourite setting. I don’t think he would get away with the overuse of the conjunction, if he didn’t pair it with a very precise vocabulary. All of these elements are present in the first sentences already. That’s why I quoted them. If you like the opening paragraphs, there’s a good chance you’ll like the rest as well. He maintains this pace, the use of descriptions, the gentle tone and mood until the last paragraph. It looks so simple, but it’s very skilful writing.

I have to thank Jackie Cangro for mentioning Our Souls At Night. I hadn’t heard of it before.

The year has only just begun, but I know this book will be on my best of list. I’m even thinking of adding it to my all-time favourites list.

Our Souls At Night is being made into a movie starring Robert Redford and Jane Fonda.


38 thoughts on “Kent Haruf: Our Souls At Night (2015)

  1. Excellent review, Caroline. I had not heard of the book until I saw this, but I’m going to make it a priority to find a copy for myself. As I rapidly approach my seventies, I am becoming more and more aware of how younger people write off the elderly and consider them to be more like children than like the generally wise adults they are. It sounds like this one might anger me, but who knows? Thank you.

    • Thanks, Sam. I’m really looking forward to hear what you think of it.
      Will it make you angry? Possibly. It saddened me but at the same time Haruf gives us a couple that’s unforgettable and their dignity and grace is amazing.
      I agree with you, the view if the elderly can be so infuriating. I’ve seen how people are treated in homes for the elderly and was taken aback. Like they were toddlers.

      • My father turns 95 in April and has been in an assisted living facility for just the past seven years. He lived alone until a loss of balance made him prone to falls. I’ve gotten to know dozens of the very elderly during these seven years and I’m amazed at how sharp most of them all and the lives they have lived. People forget that they were young at one time…just like them…and that they lived in a much more difficult and adventurous time period.

        • Absolutely, they really can tell stories. 95 is an amazing age. He’s practically seen the whole of the 20th century. I’m sure he saw fascinating things. And some hard time nes too. Compared to him and others of that age most people under 70 had it rather cushy. It’s sad to think some of them, just because they are frail physically are treated as if they lost their mental faculties.

  2. I loved this author’s Plainsong trilogy of novels. He writes with such grace and humanity about the everyday lives of ordinary people (and I use that term in a positive sense). This final novel sounds beautiful, a fitting swansong to Haruf’s literary career.

  3. You’ve summed up my feelings for this book quite well. Hoorah! for a love story of 70-year-olds. But *sniff* for the bittersweet ending. Why do some people have to be so pig-headed?

    • Thank you, Laila.
      I’m reading Benediction now. I don’t think I’m missing anything but since I’ll probably read more of him, I could have continued with Plainsong. I’m glad you liked it so much.
      I hope you’ll like this one as well.

  4. This book was reviewed in our local paper a few months back and a friend of mine ran out and bought it. I haven’t heard her thoughts on it. She is almost 90. I want to read it but I know about the meddling and that will drive me up the wall. Robert Redford and Jane Fonda? Oh, I do hope they do it justice. Not too soppy acting. I wish the Brits were doing it instead, haha. I can’t stand the overly dramatic in American movies. I am thinking Bridges of Madison County. Lovely review.

    • Thanks, Pam.
      I hope you’ll read it. I’d be interested to hear what you think. The meddling is hard to take. The only people who react well are those even older.
      I have my doubts about the movie and might not watch it. One of the strengths is the writing, it’s more than just a bitter- sweet story. At the same time, older Hollywood actors are obviously happy when there’s a role for them. The book hasn’t anything in common with The Bridges . . . The movie might have. That’s what I fear as well.

  5. I had no idea this book is becoming film (and also didn’t know Redford and Fonda are stil acting …) Anyway: I am really fond of Kent Haruf, I think “Eventide” might be my favorite.

    • Yes, it’s due out this year. Jane Fonda is still very active on TV. I’m not sure about movies though.
      I hope they will do it justice.
      I’m so glad to hear you like him too. I’ll get to Eventide eventually. I just love his writing.

  6. Beautiful review. I’ve had this one on my list for far too long and really hope to get to it soon. And now I’m so excited to hear of the upcoming movie with Redford and Fonda! I’m a long time fan of Redford’s and this news has made my day!

    • Thank you, Hubblegal.
      I hope you’ll like it as much as I did.
      I like Redford as well. Glad you liked the news. I wonder when it will be out. I just hope they won’t sugarcoat the story.

    • In 2014. I’m glad to hear you like him as well.
      I think I’ll get to Plainsong sooner or later as well. I started the trilogy with Benediction.
      Another wonderful book.

    • I agree. I can hardly get enough of his writing. I finished Benediction and now I read another author and I miss the way Haruf constructed his sentences.
      I’m glad to hear you liked this as well.

  7. I’ve been meaning to read Haruf for so long – this final volume sounds so lovely. I guess I should start with Plainsong.

    • It is lovely, Annabel. I think you can start with this as it’s a standalone but everybody keeps on praising Plainsong, so I’m sure it’s beautiful book. I just finsihed Benediction and although it’s part three of the Plainson trilogy, it worked well on its own. Similar themes to this one – old age, dying.

  8. I’m so glad that you liked this novel as much as I did! It’s deceptively straightforward, proving that you don’t need a lot of symbolism and metaphor to tell a beautiful story. You’re right that the ending is bittersweet. We never become free from expectations and obligations, even in advanced age.

    (Whenever I read a story as lovely as this, I always wonder if the author labored over each word, or if he set down the words as quickly and easily as the story flows. I suspect the former, but to make it seem the latter is such a gift.)

    • I’m glad you mentioned it, Jackie.
      It’s pretty straightforward but he also tackles “big” subjects. Symbolism would have been a distraction.
      It’s sad ending though.
      Considering that he didn’t write all that many novels, I tend to agree with you. Possibly it took a lot of rewriting until his novels were as polsihed and uncluttered as they are.
      Have you read his Plainsong trilogy?

    • So nice to hear you loved this as well. I just finished Benediction and it was just as good. There were more different characters so it felt a bit more disjointed but it has the same tone and pacing. I’m in the mood to read all of his novels now.

  9. Pingback: Best Books I Read 2017 | Beauty is a Sleeping Cat

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