Our Souls at Night, by Kent Haruf, is an exquisitely written story of aging, loneliness, empathy and the cruelties inflicted by those who should have our best interests at heart. It is a beautiful book despite the sadness it evokes. The sparse prose was a joy to read.
Addie Moore is a seventy year old widow who misses having someone to talk to when she is alone at night. One evening she pays a visit to her neighbour, Louis, a widower of a similar age. She proposes that he come over to spend the nights with her. She is not looking for sex, although this is not ruled out, but rather warmth and companionship. Thus begins a relationship that disquiets many in their small town community and shocks their children.
As Addie and Louis get to know each other better they settle into a routine that suits them well. They find contentment in each other’s company and the strength to rebuff those who criticise what they are doing. Quite a few of their friends are in fact a little envious that they have found happiness at their age. It is their children, their loved ones, who threaten all that they have gained.
Just as parent’s of young children can fail to regard their offspring’s feelings, convinced that only they know what is best for them, so Addie and Louis’s grown children cannot seem to regard their parents as people with regular desires. They see them merely as old and denounce the relationship. It is embarrassing, inappropriate and a threat to their inheritance.
The protagonists in this book are ordinary, everyday folk trying to get by as best they can. What comes to the fore as the tale progresses is how society condemns the elderly to a certain lifestyle and fails to see them as people who want to live rather than merely survive. Both Addie and Louis are of sound mind yet are treated as incapable of wise self-determination.
It is easy to see why each of the characters thinks as they do. They are rounded and believable with a depth that the author provides with a minimum of words. I loved this tale and feel sated by the telling. I recommend it to all.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Picador.