Our Souls at Night: A novel
Our Souls at Night is a peaceful gem of a story.
When Addie Moore, age 70, a widow, shows up at the home of her neighbor, Louis Waters, a widower, she has a simple proposal: “I wonder if you would consider coming to my house sometimes to sleep with me.”
So begins this short novel—less than 200 pages—and so begins a poignant journey from grief to generosity, from sadness to solidarity.
Our Souls at Night is a tender tale of loss and gain. It is about how gaps in life can be bridged with human companionship. It is a book about the opposite of emptiness.
Loneliness, as defined in Webster’s collegiate dictionary, is the quality or state of being lonely—“without company, cut off from others, solitary, not frequented by human beings.” But Kent Hauf trumps Merriam Webster’s above definition of loneliness with Our Souls at Night in painting an intimate and soulful book that manages to make a hard subject easy to read so that you feel uplifted with the soaring possibilities of life even when people are left alone to figure their way out of loneliness.
“I’m not talking about sex,” Addie tells Louis in this first encounter. “I’m talking about getting through the night. And lying warm in bed, companionably.”
Addie is 70. She knew Louis’s wife who died years ago. Holt, Colorado, is a small town and everyone knows everyone’s business. Louis is reluctant at first to take Addie up on the offer of company although at 70 he, too, is lonely. The former teacher doesn’t want to become the subject of town gossip.
Yet despite the risks he perceives of public shame, he consents to walk down the block each evening and to join Addie in her bed and return home in the mornings. “How strange this is,” he tells her on the first night. “How new it is to be here. How uncertain I feel, and sort of nervous. I don’t know what I’m thinking. A mess of things.”
But nothing is messy about the relationship that develops between Addie and Louis. It is simply beautiful . . . that is, until their adult children get involved. Addie’s son, Gene, dumps his five-year-old child on Grandma for the summer while he sorts out a broken marriage miles away. The little boy, Jamie, finds himself in a warm and loving embrace with Addie and Louis, who embark upon newfound parenthood as they embrace each other. The trio enjoys camping trips, hikes, gardening, and simple suppers. This new, mini-family is joined by a black and white dog that Addie and Louis buy for Jamie.
The fairy tale goes awry when Louis’s daughter, Holly, is the first in the family to openly complain. “It just seems embarrassing,” she tells her father. “You’re acting like a teenager.” Gene, Addie’s son, goes further, telling Louis, “I want this to stop. I want you to stay away from my mother.”
As the reader/observer of Louis and Addie, you will find yourself rooting for them and their touching relationship, which Haruf captures in elegant prose and loving dialogue. “Who would have thought at this time in our lives that we’d still have something like this. That it turns out we’re not finished with changes and excitement. And not all dried up in body and spirit.”
Spirit is what pervades the unfolding story—a spirit that makes you cheer for the second chances in life. With great sensitivity, Haruf guides us through loss, longing, and love with soaring images of small town, rural America. “The sky unclouded and the wheat in the fields alongside the road, already cut, the stubble all neat and sheared off square, in the next field the corn running in straight dark green rows. A bright hot summer’s day.”
A final and sad note: Kent Haruf passed away in November 2014 at the age of 71. This author of five previous novels left us with this gem and in so doing, leaves an indelible mark on “our souls at night.”