Addie Moore and Louis Waters have lived in the small town of Holt, Colorado for years. They’ve known of each other for decades, the superficial facts of each other’s lives, in the way of small towns, but have never been friends. But one day, Addie comes to Louis’s door and asks — well — if he would like to come over to her house at night and sleep with her. Just sleep, she says, and talk. Nights are so lonely, she has trouble sleeping. “But I think I could sleep again if there were someone else in bed with me.” she says. “Someone nice. The closeness of that. Talking in the night, in the dark.”
That’s how their relationship begins: Louis showers, and shaves, and clips his toenails, and brushes his teeth, and brings over his pajamas in a paper bag, and they… sleep together. But the intimacy and tenderness of lying together in the dark and telling each other about their lives — the happy times, the disappointments, the grief and loss, the ways their lives did, and didn’t, work out the way they hoped or imagined — deepens and enriches their lives. They find themselves happy, and happier, and more so because they don’t take it for granted.
Soon, Addie’s son Gene, who is having problems with his wife, brings Addie’s grandson Jamie to stay with them for a while. Jamie is six, and Addie and Louis fold him into their routine with no problem, as another piece of gentle happiness. They get a dog. They go camping. They get a baseball bat and gloves for all three of them, and they go see a game. And every night, they’re together. It’s simple — absolutely simple — but the depth of feeling behind it is as complicated as every human heart.
I was trying to tell my husband about this book, because I found it so moving. He looked at me with a raised eyebrow and said, “Isn’t it sappy?” I hadn’t even thought of that possibility until that moment. This book could easily have been dripping with sentiment — new love! second chances! a six-year-old lisping platitudes, and his dog! — but it just isn’t. Kent Haruf’s prose is minimalist, for one thing, stripped bare of platitudes or twee quirks. It has some twists of wry humor, and one unexpected meta-reference, which was fun. But the most important thing is that it acknowledges the essential messiness of life. Addie and Louis have both been through loss, pain, and failure of connection with the most important people in their lives. Sometimes that was someone else’s fault, and sometimes their own. In bed, in the dark, next to each other, they can admit these things, admit the anguish, and be forgiven. The ending of the book is the same. I won’t specify the pain that occurs in the last 20 pages or so, but it’s hard to read. Still, hope blossoms out in human connection and forgiveness.
I read Our Souls At Night in an afternoon, and afterward I felt slightly stunned. I was so deeply drawn in, like sitting on the bottom of a pool, with that thick wavering light. This was such a lovely book, and I’m very grateful to Teresa for prompting me to read it for our Book Swap.