Do You Need a Hug?

Reading Alex Williams’ article in the Sunday New York Times – Pillow Talk with a Professional Cuddler  – reminded me of Kent Haruf’s last novel, Our Souls At Night.

In the article, Williams interviewed a professional cuddler whose day job was managing a vegan restaurant.  Cuddle parties, usually held at yoga studios are nonsexual and capitalize on the power of touch to promote positive effects both mentally and physically.  National Institute of Health studies show that “touch increased levels of oxytocin, which lowered the levels of stress hormones in the body, reducing blood pressure, improving mood, increasing tolerance for pain and perhaps even speeding how fast wounds heal.”

In Haruf’s story, widow Addie asks her neighbor, a widower, to cuddle with her at night.  Read my review here.

One of my book clubs is discussing Haruf’s book soon – an opportunity for hugs.images-1

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