Friday, July 17, 2015

Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf

A friend recently mentioned an author, Kent Haruf, and asked if I had ever read him.  She mentioned a title or two, but I drew a blank, Later that day, I happened to wander into a bookstore, and on a table at the front of the shop was Kent Haruf’s latest novel, Our Souls at Night.  The coincidence was too striking to ignore, so I bought the slim novel without even opening the cover.  I am glad I did.

Kent Haruf was born in Colorado.  He earned an MFA from the Iowa Writer’s Workshop in 1973.  Before becoming a writer, he worked an amazing variety of jobs ranging from construction to a rehab hospital to Peace Corps English teacher.  All of his novels take place in the fictional town of Holt, based on the town of Yuma, Colorado.  He received a Whiting Foundation award, a special Hemingway Foundation/PEN citation and was a finalist for the National Book Award for Fiction.  A number of his short stories have appeared in literary magazines.  He died at the young age of 71 at his home in Salida, Colorado. 

We frequently read of parental cruelty towards children, but children can be as cruel to a parent.  When a member of the sandwich generation extends such cruelty in both directions at once, the results can be particularly tragic for all involved. 

Addie Moore is a widow who lives down the street from Louis Waters, a widower.  Addie was friends with, Diane, Louis’ wife.  Louis knew Carl, but they were not close.  One day, Addie knocks on Louis’ door to propose an idea.  She says, “I wonder if you would consider coming to my house sometimes to sleep with me. // What?  How do you mean?” // He stared at her, watching her, curious now, cautious.  // “You don’t say anything.  Have I taken your breath away?” she said. // “I guess you have.” // “I’m not talking about sex.” // “I wondered.”  (5).  Addie proposes they spend some nights together for companionship and talk.  Louis asks for time to think it over.  The next day he skulks down the back alley with a paper bag containing pajamas and a toothbrush.  He explains he wanted to hide their plan from the neighbors.  Addie says, “I don’t care about that.  They’ll know.  Someone will see.  […]  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.  The alley makes it seem we’re doing something wrong or something to be ashamed of” (8).  Night after night, they talk about their lives, their sorrows, their regrets, past mistakes, and hopes for the future.

Of course, the busybodies in the small town of Holt do see, and the judgments begin raining down on them.  Unfortunately, Addie’s son Gene is horrified and disgusted.  His wife leaves him, and he ships his young son, Jamie, off to Addie for the summer.  This puts a hold of a few days on the plan, but eventually Louis and Jamie bond, and the boy – anxious about his parent’s separation – bonds with Louis.  On the other hand, Louis’s daughter Holly is horrified at first, but she has tons more understanding than Gene.

This sensitive, warm, and delightful story does have a tragic ending, when Gene threatens to cut off contact with her only grandchild.  Addie struggles with what to do. 

Sometimes an off-hand comment, a chance visit, an impulsive move can have the most unexpected results.  Unlike Addie and Louis’ plan, my friend and the bookstore, led to a marvelous afternoon of reading.  Try Kent Haruf’s possibly last novel, Our Souls at Night, and experience the warm glow of friendship, and see where it will take you.  5 stars.

--Chiron, 6/26/15

No comments: