Review of Kent Harufs’ Our Souls at Night

by Maggie Libby Davis

For the last two years since my father passed, I’ve been looking for a sweet laid-back book for my mother as she simply doesn’t have the stomach for much drama, particularly of the heart-breaking variety. I came across Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf, his last novel published posthumously earlier this year. I finished reading it while flying home for my mother’s 69th birthday, and I think I may have finally found a book for her.

The story starts when seventy-something Addie approaches seventy-something Louis with a plan, “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 at night with me. And talk.”

Most of the story is told through the dialogue between the two widowers, Louis and Addie, as they share their life stories with each other in quiet conversations in the dark. The style of the novel is reflected in the style of the dialogue: simple, without the clutter of punctuation marks and with very few speaker tags. Haruf wastes little time with gestures and stage management, conveying tone and situation in their gentle exchanges.

The easy tone continues throughout this beautiful almost-love story. Even the tension that might be fizzles without much drama. When a few town folk react negatively to Louis and Addie’s nocturnal visits and when Louis’s daughter suggests the affair is unseemly, that detraction is quickly played out and all is well. When sex finally comes up (or doesn’t come up, as the case may be), that issue is also politely resolved. And when Addie’s young grandson comes to live with her, the couple easily accepts the addition of a child in their relationship. When the big crisis finally happens, it’s almost hard to believe, and maybe even harder to accept.

Haruf’s easy-going story telling is engaging, drawing the reader in. The dialogue is heavy with meaning and emotion, and the narrative never veers into sentimentality. Addie and Louis reflect humanity and the difficult choices people are often forced to make. We are reminded that people take comfort in what they know, with those they know, because, as Addie said of her late husband, “I took care of him. I don’t know what else I would’ve done. We had that long time of joined life, even if it wasn’t good for either one of us. That was our history.”

Haruf somehow managed to write a subtle story of loss. The tender depth of the writing won’t immediately knock your socks off, but as it seeps in, you may find yourself wondering who you will share the loneliness with if you make it that far. The underlying issue of being the last one standing, hoping that someone has the nerve to make a move like Addie or the courage to accept like Louis, carries this novel through to the last page. Louis and Addie never seem to be afraid of death; they just don’t want to be alone anymore. In the end though, Haruf takes away the comfort we think we’ve found in the his novel as the reality of living forces more difficult choices on Louis and Addie in a way that’s unexpected but also exactly right.

Now I’m reconsidering if this is the right book for my mother – it hits a little too close to home. Maybe I’ll sign her up for If nothing else, she might find someone to talk to at night, even if it’s just electronically.

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