Our Souls at Night
Committed relationships often feel complicated, as any couples therapist will acknowledge. But falling in love often feels simple. Clear and inspiring, liberating and pure. Kent Haruf captures the purity and ease of burgeoning romantic feelings in his final novel, Our Souls at Night. The novel is a quick, engaging read that explores the magic of new love, the power of second chances and the complexity of long-term relationships.
Addie Moore is a widow in her seventies, living alone in Holt, Colorado. The novel begins when she pays an unexpected evening visit to her neighbor, Louis Waters. Louis is a widower also in his seventies, and he is surprised to see Addie but even more surprised to learn the reason for her visit. Addie suggests that Louis come to her home the next night to sleep over. Not for sex, on this she is clear, but for companionship and conversation. She misses her late husband the most in the lonely hours of the night and imagines that laying with Louis might be an elegant solution.
Louis hesitantly accepts Addie’s invitation. He pays special attention to his grooming before heading over to her nearby home. And so their courtship begins. An unforeseen bond builds, night after night, as they discuss their lives, their marriages and their losses. Addie lost her young daughter when she ran into the street and was hit by a car. Louis was unfaithful and briefly separated. While his marriage recovered, the betrayal lingered between Louis and his late wife, Diane. Louis regrets his lapse in character as well as other “sins of omission” like failing to express his sympathy following Addie’s daughter’s death.
…Your wife came a number of times to check on me. I appreciate it. It was grateful to her. Most people felt too uncomfortable to say anything at all.
I should have come with her.
That would have been good.
Sins of omission, Louis said.
You don’t believe in sins.
I believe there are failures of character, like I said. That’s a sin.
Well, you’re here now.
This is where I want to be now.
Haruf’s crisp, descriptive language echoes the clarity of the Addie and Louis’ bond. When Addie’s son and his wife separate, they send Addie’s six year-old grandson to Holt for an extended visit. Louis gives the young boy the very connection he needs, adopting a shelter adopts a dog for him and exposing him to nature, sports and poetry. But when Addie’s son finds out about Addie and Louis, the relationship’s dynamics become fraught.
A central plot thread that will be of interest to readers who are in therapy or working on their own relationships is the challenge of balancing separateness and togetherness. In order to do so, it is essential to affirm one’s self and one’s decisions without over emphasizing what others might think. Of course, a blossoming relationship between a widow and widower in their seventies in a small town generates a flood of feedback and reactions. For a relationship to survive, it is essential to affirm one’s self and one’s choices without overemphasizing unwanted, unsolicited opinions. Addie and Louis forge a memorable love story that challenges conventional notions of true love and happy endings.
The novel was published in 2015, the same year as Huruf’s death at age 71. In 2017 the novel was released as a film with Jane Fonda playing Addie and Robert Redford playing Louis.