Our Souls At Night by Kent Haruf

During the weekend, I took a break from my current read to pick up this final slim book written by Kent Haruf, knowing it would be a gentle, soothing read that makes little demand of the reader.

Nights in Holt, Colorado

Kent Haruf last novel set in HoltLike the Plainsong Trilogy, it takes place in the provincial town of Holt where all Haruf’s book were set. This time we meet neighbours Louis and Addie, who are both widowed, early 70’s, living alone, with Ruth, in her 80’s in the house between them.

They’re not close, but one morning Addie arrives on Louis’s doorstep with an unorthodox proposal to alleviate her insomnia. That he spend nights with her, in her bed. She thinks it might help and wonders if he has a similar issue.

I’ve 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.

The novel this explores the development of this new relationship, that Addie has no wish to hide, and it’s repercussions, in that frank, open way Haruf has of confronting his characters with their often uncommunicative selves, forcing them out of their silences, of their set ways, for their own benefit.

Challenging the Quiet to Speak Up, Act Out

When Louis tells Addie he has thought of her, admiring her character, she responds:

Why would you say that?
Because of how you live. How you managed your life after Carl died. That was a hard time for you he said. That’s what I mean. I know what it was like for me after my wife died, and I could see that you were doing better than did. I admired that.
You never came over or made a point of saying anything, she said.
I didn’t want to seem intrusive.
You wouldn’t have. I was very lonely.

One would think at their age they ought to be free to indulge themselves a little, but this a parochial town and Addie’s intention is more of a challenge than she initially realises.

Daring to Be Free, At Their Age

Robert Redford Jane Fonda Our Souls at Night Kent Haruf When Louis’s daughter visits, her explains that it is a decision they’ve made to be free. She tells him he is acting like a teenager.

I never acted like this as a teenager. I never dared anything. I did what was supposed to do. You’ve done too much of that yourself, if I may say so.

There’s a reference in chapter 34 to his earlier novels, where Addie and Louis are discussing the upcoming theatrical season in which they are featuring the last book about Holt Country. The one with the old many dying and the preacher. They discuss the author’s imagination.

He took the physical details from Holt, the place names of the streets and what the country looks like and the location of things, but it’s not this town. And it’s not anybody in this town. All that’s made up. Did you know any old brothers like that? Did that happen here?
Not that I know of. Or ever heard of.
It’s all imagined, he said.
He could write a book about us. How would you like that?

Yes, there is one of these in the book too.
Photo by Brixiv on Pexels.com

It’s both life affirming and sad at the same time, we have a perspective that not everyone in the community shares, though Haruf seems to be telling his readership that ultimately, if we nurture and allow it, love always finds a way.

A perfect weekend read and fitting tribute to a much loved author.

Kent Haruf died in November 2014 at the age of seventy-one, just before this last book was published in 2015.

In 2017 it was made into a film starring Jane Fonda and Robert Redford.

Have you read this book or seen the film?

Further Reading/My Reviews

Plainsong by Kent Haruf

Benediction by Kent Haruf

Eventide by Kent Haruf

 

23 thoughts on “Our Souls At Night by Kent Haruf

  1. Haruf’s writing is so quietly eloquent, isn’t it. This seemed such a fitting last book from him. I loved Ruth’s reaction to the small town gossips who had something to say about Addie and Louis’ new sleeping arrangements!

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  2. I loved this so much and what a coincidence, I just got the second and third book of the Plainsong trilogy today. I did watch the movie but about two years after reading the book. It’s a nice film but not like the book.

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    • Although it’s his last book, it’s very indicative of his style. I held off reading it until I’d read his trilogy, however having now read this, I’d say you could totally begin here. Both this one and the third in the trilogy are stand alone novels and at least just reading one gives the reader a flavour of his spare prose.

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  3. I loved this book and took some criticism for that love. “You’re such a romantic,” my friend said. Maybe — but this book is really about the loneliness of the heart in old age … and about the pull and primacy of the first generation (Addie) to the third (Jamie). I just love being in the presence of anything Haruf has written. And if you haven’t done so, DON’T watch the movie. It doesn’t add anything to this special book (though I love both the actors in it, it distorts the story.) Thanks, Claire!

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    • I love how you hone right in on the central themes, Jennifer:

      “the loneliness of the heart in old age … and about the pull and primacy of the first generation to the third”

      And as Valorie alludes to below, the inability of the middle generation to understand or allow those things to coexist peacefully. The reality of complex family dynamics and humanity’s tendency towards manipulation and punishment to obtain what they want.

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  4. I read Haruf’s book and liked it, but not nearly as much as Plainsong or Eventide. It was just terribly sad, and I thought the adult child (can’t remember if a son or a daughter, or both) was harsh and unreasonable with their mother. It seemed unnecessarily bleak….

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    • It is both children who express disapproval, though the words and consequence of one are worse than the other. I found it provocative that a younger generation was acting less open minded, but also think it wouldn’t have the same ability to make the reader think without the central conflict.

      Sadly, it’s not unrealistic, it happens often that an elder parent reaching for companionship is rejected or punished by their adult children and the third generation suffer the loss. Life can indeed be unnecessarily bleak, I’m sure that’s almost a cause of death for many elderly, especially in these punishing times we live in right now.

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  5. I’m so glad you’ve written about this book as it’s a wonderful reminder of the things I love about Haruf’s writing (largely from the Plainsong trilogy). There is so much compassion and humanity there, qualities that come through from your review of this novella. Also, I really like what you say about it being both melancholy and life-affirming at the same time. It’s a hard balance to get right, but Haruf seems to be one of those rare writers that can pull it off…

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    • Haruf indeed had a gift at being able to demonstrate the core of dysfunction in family and community relationships and dynamics, with such simple prose, understated dialogue and a kind of pause for reflection, which is remarkable given it was with words. An acute observer of humanity in his chosen rural part of the world, a microcosm of the whole.

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  6. I did not see the picture of the doggie coming. It’s a delightful surprise. Thank you, Claire. 🙂 I intend to revisit the book. It’s been a couple of years since I read it. Perhaps, I will watch the movie after I reread it. Claire, I am not sure if I remember it right. Were the children inconsiderate in the book? Is there a stereotypical pattern in the way the adult-children are portrayed in the books about the elderly? What are your thoughts on that? I look forward to hearing it.

    Also, I am hoping that you were able to meet the reason why your dad gifted this book back to you. ❤

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    • The grandson and the dog are two of the delights in the book if you remember Deepika, they make up a little for some of the less humane acts and attitudes.

      I don’t know that I would call the adult children’s response stereo-typical, it’s certainly disapproving. But the length to which some will go in their disapproval, the behaviour is what creates the central controversy.

      It’s interesting to read this and then be reading Nancy Levin’s book on boundaries. Because you could say this book too is about boundaries, about what happens when you let someone cross them; that it isn’t about that person’s behaviour, it’s about how you take care of yourself if their behaviour continues – which ultimately leads to the sacrifices one is prepared to take.

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      • What an enlightening comment, Claire! Thank you. This year, I definitely want to spend more time to understand the process of setting boundaries, and how I can honour my own boundaries. I have added Nancy Levin’s book to my list. And I look forward to reading your thoughts on that.

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    • I became aware of Kent Haruf’s Plainsong trilogy and over time I collected the three books, partly because many who had read him and knew the kind of reading I like said they thought I’d really enjoy his work. He does have a very particular style, it’s intriguing because it’s so unique, understated, characters that say so little, it’s like the reflective pause in cinema, where so much is understood with very little being said. And he chooses situations for his characters that invite us to reflect on our behaviours. He’s almost universally enjoyed, but can be controversial in a considered way.

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