Heading into his sunset years, Louis Waters doesn’t ask for much. “Hell,” he says, “I just want to live simply and pay attention to what’s happening each day.”
He quit teaching years ago. Cancer killed his wife, and his daughter has moved away. He’s resigned himself to a lonely end in small-town Holt, Colo., the fictional setting of all of the late Kent Haruf’s quietly sweeping novels. (Haruf died after completing this book, Our Souls at Night, and before its publication.) But Louis’ neighbor, Addie Moore, has a different idea.
“I wonder if you would consider coming to my house sometimes to sleep with me,” she asks him. “I’m lonely. I think you might be, too.”
She’s not talking about sex, but about companionship: a hand to hold, a body to warm and, most of all, someone with whom to share her thoughts. “The nights are the worst,” she says. “Don’t you think?” After dinner, Louis takes the alley to Addie’s house, where he changes into his pajamas and slips into bed beside her. They ask each other questions in the dark—questions about their children, their previous marriages, the sins of their past and the regrets of their present. As this pocket-sized yet profound novel unfolds, Louis and Addie reach for a second chance at companionship, something neither has known for decades.
“Who does ever get what they want?” Addie asks. “It’s always two people bumping against each other blindly, acting out of old ideas and dreams and mistaken understandings.”
Tension arises when the town starts gossiping—especially when the grown-up children disapprove. But the real emotional tightrope is strung between Addie and Louis’ newfound happiness and the unpredictable clock of a human life: How long can this last? Who or what will step in the way? And how much happiness does a person deserve?
For a book so filled with heart, Our Souls at Night appears largely uninterested in love—at least not in the traditional sense. At this stage in their lives, Addie and Louis seem to know better. In fact, the word “love” is used sparingly in this novel, if at all. What forms between these two lonely people transcends any abstract term; it is, instead, a simple understanding, the acceptance of two flawed souls and the fate that awaits us all.
Our Souls at Night
By Kent Haruf
192 pages, $24