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Book Review: Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf (3/5)

5 Dec

Haruf is an author whose work I always see other reading or in shops or in some WWW Wednesday posts and I wonder if I’d enjoy his books. When my book club picked this title, I was excited because it would give me a chance to finally try him out and, even better, talk to others about the book. I was also surprised to find out he has a very sparse writing style so I flew through this book in just a few days.

Cover image via Goodreads

Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf

Summary from Goodreads:

In the familiar setting of Holt, Colorado, home to all of Kent Haruf’s inimitable fiction, Addie Moore pays an unexpected visit to a neighbor, Louis Waters. Her husband died years ago, as did his wife, and in such a small town they naturally have known of each other for decades; in fact, Addie was quite fond of Louis’s wife. His daughter lives hours away in Colorado Springs, her son even farther away in Grand Junction, and Addie and Louis have long been living alone in houses now empty of family, the nights so terribly lonely, especially with no one to talk with.

I liked how this book dove right into the plot. There wasn’t much exposition and Haruf made that work well. It was a slow novel. There wasn’t much action and only one or two dramatic moments which seemed played down with Haruf’s short sentences and a lack of details. He reminds me of Hemingway in that sense. I liked Addie and I liked Louis even more. Jamie was a great character to introduce as a way of changing the course of their relationships. I think the style is the only thing holding me back from rating this book higher. It was a bit too light of detail for me.

I felt the characters and the way they interacted was incredibly realistic. The gossiping reminded me of high school and the relationship Addie and Louis formed was really sweet. I think that was a strong point of the book because I felt like I could drive to Holt and find Louis in his garden. It was all so easy to picture.

Louis was easily my favorite character. With the way the book ends, it’s easy to blame Addie (though Gene is really to blame!). Louis has some bad light cast on him in town because of his affair years before but I found him remorseful and easy to forgive. His wife probably didn’t think he was as easy to forgive, but looking at him from Addie’s perspective, he had shown true remorse. Besides, Addie was never looking to marry him. Louis’s slow and methodical approach to life was very admirable, too. He reminded me of summers in the country and the freedom of a pre-iPhone world.

There were small parts of each character I related to but I think my age difference between these characters is one of the things that kept me from enjoying the book more. It’s hard for me to think forty years into the future and imagine how I would feel if my husband had passed and how lonely that would feel. Not having children distanced me from the characters as well. I could understand loneliness, but not on the same scale as Louis and Addie.

Image via the New York Times

I loved all the activities they got Jamie interested in to help him deal with his parent’s fighting. I thought the camping trip sounded wonderful and I could imagine the wonder Jamie felt at watching the baby mice grow up. I liked that they got him off of his phone and experiencing the world. I think children are naturally curious and television and devices are a learned action. It’s great that Addie and Louis were able to teach him something else.

I felt the ending was very sudden and it was a bit of a let down for me. I wanted to see Addie as a stronger character but I felt she was manipulated by her son and it made me sad. In the end, her decision was the best one, but it was hard to watch what happened between her and Louis because of it.

There are many themes Haruf worked into the book. The idea that being older doesn’t mean you have to stop living is the most obvious. It seems like Addie and Louis gave up on having anything new in their lives but they were able to really enjoy each other and what they found together.

Writer’s Takeaway: The sparse detail and simple sentence structure are very distinct in this book. I’m going to assume Haruf’s books all follow this style. Personally, it’s not a way I could write a book. I think leaving some things up to the imagination of the reader is important but Haruf took it a step farther than I would have. I felt he also paced the book equally throughout, not slowing down to spend more time on important events or to speed up through unimportant things such as what was eaten for dinner. I think changing the pacing of a book helps emphasize key moments in a story.

I liked the book though I didn’t connect with it well and the style threw me a bit. Three out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

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