Our Souls at Night, coming in at only 179 numbered pages, is a little book that packs a big wallop. As it turns out, the 2015 novel is also the last one written by author Kent Haruf who died a few months prior to its publication. That alone is enough to make this a special book.
Let me begin by saying that for such a short book, Our Souls at Night tugged along a wide range of my emotions, all the way from joy to anger to sadness – and pretty much everything in between.
Louis Waters was surprised early one evening to receive a visit from Addie Moore, one of his neighbors. After all, despite living on the same street for decades, the two of them had not socialized in years – and not at all since the deaths of both their spouses. He was even more surprised, almost shocked speechless, by the proposal that Addie had come to make:
“I’m listening, Louis said.
I wonder if you would consider coming to my house sometimes to sleep with me.
What? How do you mean?
I mean we’re both alone. We’ve been by ourselves for too long. For years. I’m lonely. I think you might be too. I wonder if you would come and sleep in the night with me. And talk.
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.
This deceptively simple passage from page five of Our Souls at Night is indicative of the style used throughout the rest of the book by Haruf, but don’t let it deceive you into thinking that this book has little or nothing to say. Our Souls at Night is, in fact, a sensitive study of what life is like for those living in their seventh or eighth decades of life after having lost their life-partners. And what happens next is simply beautiful.
Louis surprises himself, and probably Addie, by accepting her offer. At first, Louis tries to make sure that no one sees him entering and leaving Addie’s home, but Addie is quick to set him straight. She tells him that neither of them have anything to be ashamed of because they are doing nothing wrong, they are hurting absolutely no one, and what they do together is no one’s business but their own. And after the almost-nightly conversations they have allow Addie and Louis to get to know each other better, they find that they genuinely like and enjoy each other’s company – and that they still have a whole lot of the rebel in them. They even sometimes feel so radical that they dress in loud colors when they go out in public so that all the wagging tongues around town will be sure to spot them.
In my favorite section of the book, Addie’s small grandson comes to live with her when his parents separate while they consider divorcing. Watching Louis work his magic on the confused and terrified little boy is wonderful. Before long, Louis has introduced him to his first baseball glove, outdoor camping, and his first dog (a shelter acquisition that has lost most of the toes on one of her paws and has to wear a special boot when she goes outdoors). The bond that forms between the seventy-something Louis and the little boy is one that neither of them is ever likely to forget.
But as much as I regret to report it, those in the real world are not always prepared to accept this kind of relationship between the elderly, especially their suspicious adult children – and those children have a nuclear weapon in their arsenal: control of access to the grandchildren. This is the point in the story where anger was the chief emotion I was feeling as I read – and if that feeling of anger has somewhat lessened now, it is only because it has been replaced by my sadness for Louis and Addie.
Bottom Line: Our Souls at Night is a must-read for everyone, regardless of age. It is simply a beautiful little book, one that will be long remembered by those lucky enough to discover it.