Our Souls At Night by Kent Haruf

9781101875902_p0_v2_s192x300The saddest part of reading Kent Haruf’s latest book – Our Souls At Night – is knowing it is his last. When Haruf died recently, he deprived us of more stories with his trademark blend of philosophy, soul-searching, and good common sense.  Having discovered this author through one of his later books – Benediction – I’ve been back to read his others, but they are not enough.  I will miss him.

Our Souls At Night is a short book – only 179 pages – and easily read in a sitting, but digesting it takes much longer. Seventy year old widowed Addie walks over to her neighbor’s house one day and invites him to spend the night with her.  Louis, a widower and alone, accepts her offer, and each night, he walks over with his pajamas in a paper bag to sleep with Addie.  As they talk in bed, and get to know more about each other’s past, they start a relationship of trust and comfort.

When Addie’s young grandson comes to spend the summer away from his feuding parents, Louis readily adapts to grandfather mode – teaching the boy how to throw a ball, exploring the woods, camping overnight, even adopting an old dog from the shelter.  Addie, Louis, Jamie, and Bonny, the dog, enjoy each other and reawaken the pleasure of just having fun together, despite the snide town gossips.

Gene, Addie’s son, is scandalized by his mother’s actions, and demands she stop seeing Louis.  Why would a seventy year old’s actions be dictated by her son?  How could she give up her last chance for peace and happiness?  Could she risk antagonizing the only family she has?  The ending is true Haruf – leaving the reader with the reality of  choices, while offering possibilities and hope.

So many gems of wisdom dot the short landscape of this book:

(She) feels she has to be a certain way or she’ll be abandoned…

Most people feel uncomfortable to say anything at all…I believe they are failures of character…

(Marriage) is always two people going against each other blindly, acting out of old ideas and drama and mistaken understandings.  Except…that isn’t true of you and me…

As always, Kent Haruf has left me with a lot to think about, and ideas I want to discuss…

Related Review: Benediction

Talk Amongst Yourselves

chat_icon_clip_art_7491 When asked to recommend books for discussion in a small group of “intelligent and fun ladies,” I scrolled through my reviews to find fare for a local book club.

I found:

  1. Karen Joy Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves
  2. Anton DiSclafani’s The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls
  3. Khaled Hosseini’s And the Mountains Echoed
  4. Kent Haruf’s Benediction
  5. Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life
  6. Liane Moriarty’s What Alice Forgot
  7. Clare Vanderpool’s Navigating Early
  8. B. A. Shapiro’s The Art Forger
  9. Maria Semple’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette?
  10. Robin Sloan’s Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore.
  11. Rachel Joyce’s The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

Some I will probably reread whether or not anyone wants to discuss them.

Benediction

9780307959881_p0_v2_s260x420-1With gentleness and respect, Kent Haruf’s Benediction examines ordinary lives in the small town of Holt in Eastern Colorado. Although this is the third book in his trilogy, following Plainsong and Evensong, this story stands on its own. Steeped in sadness with its focus on terminally ill Dad Lewis, Benediction offers insights not only into the examination of life as it ends but also into the perception of its effects on others.

With simplistic language reminiscent of Hemingway and a homespun quality bordering on Garrison Keillor or Thornton Wilder, Haruf methodically records the thoughts and language of his characters. As Dad physically deteriorates, life in the little town goes on; the characters revolve around him but simultaneously keep spinning in their own orbits: Dad’s forbearing wife, Mary; his daughter, Lorraine; his long-lost homosexual son, Frank; the salesmen at his hardware store; the firebrand minister and his family; the grandmother next door, caring for her recently orphaned granddaughter; and two towns women – two good souls among some not so tolerant. Each has fears, concerns, inner demons – revealed through Haruf’s subtle interactions – yet, through Dad, their best selves come to the fore, for him and for each other. Conflicts are not always resolved, as in real life, but life goes on – the “precious ordinary.” The death of Dad comes, but the characters and their inner battles live on – maybe for another book.

Although Kurt Haruf’s Benediction is a beautifully written testament to ordinary people, it is a difficult book to read – especially if you have a parent or loved one who recently died. Knowing the sad focus of the book kept me from reading the story for a while, even after I had downloaded it on my Kindle for a recent trip. Eventually, after reading reviews and one particular reviewer who returned to read one of Haruf’s other books in the trilogy, I decided to try. After the first 100 pages, I was hooked on the language and invested in the characters. The terminally ill father was actually a subplot – one of many on the journey of life. Haruf’s last pages, describing the death scene, however, are honest and thoughtful – but no less easy to read. Have your box of tissues nearby.

Now Reading

Restless reading syndrome has captured my Kindle and iPhone while I await library books to hold in my hand.  I am simultaneously in the middle of:

9780307959881_p0_v2_s260x420Benediction by Kent Haruf  –   Recommended by a fellow reader; just started but so far the characters have involved me in their lives and language.

A Thousand Pardons by Jonathan Dee – A heroine recovers from her 9780812993219_p0_v1_s260x420husband’s erratic actions to carve a successful life in public relations.  So far, easy and distracting, with the promise of an epiphany.

9781596914209_p0_v1_s260x420Tom and Jack:  The Intertwined Lives of Thomas Hart Benton and Jackson Pollock by  Henry Adams – conversational information on the relationship of the famous artists and their lives.  So far, the facts are motivating me to find their art to match the personal events.

Superfoods: The Food and Medicine of the Future  by David Wolfe – The twelve best food supplements to live9781556437762_p0_v1_s260x420 a super life, according to Wolfe.  So far, the chocolate has my vote.