‘It’s a great book, to put it simply’ – Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf

osankhWe can discuss the fact that Kent Haruf is no longer with us, if you like. It’s really sad. No more new Kent Haruf books after this one. Pretty sucky, right? We could also talk about the fact that Haruf wrote this last book as he was dying, in the full knowledge that his end was approaching. There are a couple of things in that: first, knowing he was living through what would amount to his last months and weeks and hours and minutes, he chose to write, he chose to spend his time writing; and second, in the full knowledge of his impending death, he wrote the book we have in our hands, Our Souls at Night. Some reviewers have scoured these words as if Haruf had been imbued with special powers, as if – in the knowledge of the approach of his death – his wisdom would shine ever brighter, as if that makes this book just that little bit more special than all of his other books, which is a little silly. What we have here is a book, by Kent Haruf, a writer whose books are all worth reading because Kent Haruf was a very good writer. We don’t need to ponder imponderables; we can just read the book. It’s slim so it won’t take you very long but because it is slim you may find yourself re-reading after you’ve read it through once, as I did. It’s that good. It’s that worthwhile.

As with his other books, it’s set in Holt (and again, reviewers have been asking: what did it mean, that he set all of his books in Holt, a fictionalised version of the place he lived – what did it mean? Silly reviewers, looking in all the wrong places for answers to questions that are not really worth asking, never mind answering). It has a terrific opening line:

“And then there was the day Addie Moore made a call on Louis Waters.”

You can’t help but love that ‘And then’ eh? You’ll also find as you read, there are lots of other terrific words, nicely chosen phrases, writing that snags you, has you draw pause, look up, consider. Haruf books are full of those moments.

Addie is an old lady and Louis is an old man. Addie has a proposition. Would Louis mind sharing her bed at night, for the conversation in the dark, for the company? Louis is a bit taken aback. The pair of them are widowers. The pair of them are lonely. Louis at the very least thought he was pretty much done with excitement, thought life would pretty much proceed as it had been doing. Addie is the brave one, the one who puts herself out there, at least at first. Of course, there is gossip. It’s a small town. Each faces it and deals with it in their own way. Addie and Louis gradually get to know each other, as they talk in the day. How each met the person they married, what the marriage was like, what was hard, what couldn’t be resolved. Mistakes that were made.

Louis gets ill and you wonder, is this a book in which Haruf explores… But no. Louis gets ill briefly because that is what happens to people in life. Addie and Louis deal with it and then the illness passes. Later, Addie’s son, who is himself having troubles in his marriage, asks Addie to look after his boy for a couple of months; again, Addie and Louis deal with it in their own way. It’s all rather beautiful and moving. There is a crisis, of course, too, as you knew there would be; but it comes from an unexpected source and is unexpectedly cruel too, but the cruelty isn’t what the book chooses to leave you with. The book chooses to leave you with a brief sense that, in spite of difficulty, some things can endure. For those reviewers looking for that near death super human power of insight, it’s not a bad message. But for those of us who have been reading Kent Haruf for a wee while it’s the kind of wisdom we’ve come to expect.

Any Cop?: It’s a great book, to put it simply. This will come as no surprise to fans of Haruf. If you’ve yet to partake of Mr Haruf’s excellent books, you can start here and then leap in to the rest of them with abandon.


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