Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Our souls at night by Kent Haruf

Minerva members enjoyed this short American novel, Our souls at night. Many of us read it in one session. Haruf wrote this ‘homage to his wife’ as he was dying – one chapter a day.

The story is seemingly simple but actually concerns many issues pertinent to mature readers. It is also sweet and poignant. An elderly single man and single woman live next door to each other in a fictional town called Holt, Colorado. They are both lonely having lost their long-term partners. One day quite out of the blue Addie decides to change her loneliness for companionship by asking her neighbour Louis if he will spend the nights with her. It begins with friendship and slowly develops into a loving relationship. Along the way they change the life of Addie’s young grandson. However they live in a small town and gossip is their enemy. It ends in tears and secrecy.

A small domestic drama but most enjoyable seeing their friendship develop and how they are able to spread happiness around for at least a short time.

One member likened the tale to a fairy story with a dash of reality at the conclusion. The story is about dealing with pain as we all must and then just get on with life.

Louis and Addie are aware their relationship will cause problems but are not aware it seems that jealousy and backstabbing behavior is so rife in the personalities of their family and friends.  Narrow mindedness and malicious gossiping are still issues in the 21st century.

Addie Moore crumbles under the pressure of her son’s criticism and values. Her health also suffers and her vulnerability in body as well as mind is sad to see after being such a competent person. Her son is more concerned with his inheritance than her welfare. The son has seemingly good reasons for his behaviour but we were not convinced.

One member thought Addie and Louis were too kind to her grandson, a little bit schmaltzy but others disagreed. They were certainly very generous and kind in the amount of time they spent with him in comparison to his parents. It was just what he needed. He blossomed under the love and attention of the two devoted older people. Here Haruf is strongly criticizing the younger generation’s lack of parenting skills in a quite bold way. Haruf is also criticizing their concentration on money rather than the more simple pleasures of life, such as camping and working in the shed.

It is difficult to make such a poignant story out of simple pleasures but Haruf succeeds beautifully. One of the great strengths is the sentence construction. They are very simple and there are no qualifying clauses and phrases. A Minerva member loved the opening sentence – such a simple beginning but it conveys so much – ‘And then there was the day when Addie Moore made a call to Louis Waters.’ It delivers the names of the characters and puts them in a setting immediately.  We did comment that Haruf has written numerous other books so he is an experienced writer with an obvious mastery for words and plot.  It could be likened in its straightforwardness to the Australian writer Elizabeth Jolley and the Englishman Ian McEwan.

Louis is a wonderful character who we all liked – one member would like one in her life !  We noticed that Louis is quite hesitant about Addie’s proposal at first – ‘what in the hell, he said’ (to himself). Addie discovers that she is not all dried up despite her mature years but can still have fun and enjoy life. And they give happy times to others such as the older neighbour as well as the child.

After the climax, the end of the sleeping arrangements, both Addie and Louis have regrets which is another reality check. They were fond of one another and of their arrangements as it gave them so much.  It is a novel in which so much is inferred – just enough to allow the reader’s imagination to take over.

The conclusion resulted in us discussing some of these topics such as sleeping arrangements and ourselves and others. As we age these ‘things’ matter more.

What a pity that Haruf didn’t live to know that he wrote a perfect little gem of a book.