Our Souls at Night (Haruf)

Our Souls at Night 
Kent Haruf, 2015
Knopf Doubleday
192 pp.
ISBN-13: 9781101911921

A spare yet eloquent, bittersweet yet inspiring story of a man and a woman who, in advanced age, come together to wrestle with the events of their lives and their hopes for the imminent future.

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.

Their brave adventures—their pleasures and their difficulties—are hugely involving and truly resonant, making Our Souls at Night the perfect final installment to this beloved writer’s enduring contribution to American literature. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—February 24, 1943
Where—Pueblo, Colorado, USA
Died—November 30, 2014
Where—Salida, Colorado
Education—B.A., Nebraska Wesleyan University; M.F.A., Iowa Writers' Workshop
Awards—(see below)

Alan Kent Haruf was an American novelist and author of six novels, all set in the fictional town of Holt, Colorado.

Haruf was born in Pueblo, Colorado, the son of a Methodist minister. He graduated with a BA from Nebraska Wesleyan University in 1965, where he would later teach, and earned an MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop at the University of Iowa in 1973.

Before becoming a writer, Haruf worked in a variety of places, including a chicken farm in Colorado, a construction site in Wyoming, a rehabilitation hospital in Denver, a hospital in Phoenix, a presidential library in Iowa, an alternative high school in Wisconsin, as an English teacher with the Peace Corps in Turkey, and colleges in Nebraska and Illinois.

He lived with his wife, Cathy, in Salida, Colorado until his death in 2014. He had three daughters from his first marriage.

All of Haruf's novels take place in the fictional town of Holt, in eastern Colorado, a town based on Yuma, Colorado, one of Haruf's residences in the early 1980s. His first novel, The Tie That Binds (1984), received a Whiting Award and a special Hemingway Foundation/PEN citation. Where You Once Belonged followed in 1990. A number of his short stories have appeared in literary magazines.

Plainsong was published in 1999 and became a U.S. bestseller. The New York Times' Verlyn Klinkenborg called it "a novel so foursquare, so delicate and lovely, that it has the power to exalt the reader." Plainsong won the Mountains & Plains Booksellers Award and the Maria Thomas Award in Fiction and was a finalist for the National Book Award for Fiction.

Eventide, a sequel to Plainsong, was published in 2004. Library Journal described the writing as "honest storytelling that is compelling and rings true." Jonathan Miles saw it as a "repeat performance" and "too goodhearted."

On November 30, 2014, at the age of 71, Kent Haruf died at his home in Salida, Colorado, of interstitial lung disease.

Our Souls at Night, his final work, was published posthumously in 2015 and received wide praise. Ron Charles of the Washington Post called it "a tender, carefully polished work that it seems like a blessing we had no right to expect."

1986 - Whiting Award for fiction
1999 - Finalist for the 1999 National Book Award for Plainsong
2005 - Colorado Book Award for Eventide
2005 - Finalist for the Book Sense Award for Eventide
2009 - Dos Passos Prize for Literature
2012 - Wallace Stegner Award
2014 - Folio Prize shortlist for Benediction
(Author bio adapted from Wikipedia. Retrieved 8/26/2015.)

Book Reviews
His great subject was the struggle of decency against small-mindedness, and his rare gift was to make sheer decency a moving subject.... [This] novel runs on the dogged insistence that simple elements carry depths, and readers will find much to be grateful for.
Joan Silber - New York Times Book Review

Short, spare and moving.... Our Souls at Night is already creating a stir.
Jennifer Maloney - Wall Street Journal

Utterly charming [and] distilled to elemental purity.... such a tender, carefully polished work that it seems like a blessing we had no right to expect.
Ron Charles - Washington Post

Lateness—and second chances—have always been a theme for Haruf. But here, in a book about love and the aftermath of grief, in his final hours, he has produced his most intense expression of that yet... Packed into less than 200 pages are all the issues late life provokes.
John Freeman - Boston Globe

A fitting close to a storied career, a beautiful rumination on aging, accommodation, and our need to connect.... As a meditation on life and forthcoming death, Haruf couldn’t have done any better. He has given us a powerful, pared-down story of two characters who refuse to go gentle into that good night.
Lynn Rosen - Philadelphia Enquirer

Haruf is never sentimental, and the ending—multiple twists packed into the last twenty pages—is gritty, painful and utterly human.... His novels are imbued with an affection and understanding that transform the most mundane details into poetry. Like the friendly light shining from Addie's window, Haruf’s final novel is a beacon of hope; he is sorely missed.
Francesca Wade - Financial Times

A marvelous addition to his oeuvre...spare but eloquent, bittersweet yet hopeful.
Kurt Rabin - Fredericksburg Freelance-Star

More Winesburg than Mayberry, Holt and its residents are shaped by physical solitude and emotional reticence.... Haruf's fiction ratifies ordinary, nonflashy decency, but he also knows that even the most placid lives are more complicated than they appear from the outside.... The novel is a plainspoken, vernacular farewell.
Catherine Holmes - Charleston Post and Courier

A fine and poignant novel that demonstrates that our desire to love and to be loved does not dissolve with age.... The story speeds along, almost as if it's a page-turning mystery.
Joseph Peschel - St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Haruf spent a life making art from our blind collisions, and Our Souls at Night is a fitting finish.
John Reimringer - Minneapolis Star Tribune

Elegiac, mournful and compassionate. . .a triumphant end to an inspiring literary career [and] a reminder of a loss on the American cultural landscape, as well as a parting gift from a master storyteller.
William J. Cobb - Dallas Morning News

By turns amusing and sad, skipping-down-the-sidewalk light and pensive.... I recommend reading it straight through, then sitting in quiet reflection of beautiful literary art.
Fred Ohles - Lincoln Journal Star

Haruf was knows as a great writer and teacher whose work will endure.... The cadence of this book is soft and gentle, filled with shy emotion, as tentative as a young person's first kiss—timeless in its beauty.... Addie and Louis find a type of love that, as our society ages, ever more people in the baby boom generation may find is the only kind of love that matters.
Jim Ewing - Jackson Clarion-Ledger

Blunt, textured, and dryly humorous. . . this quietly elegiac novel caps a fine, late-blooming and tenacious writing career.... Haruf’s gift is to make hay of the unexpected, and it feels like a mercy.... This is a novel for just after sunset on a summer’s eve, when the sky is still light and there is much to see, if you are looking.
Wingate Packard - Seattle Times

There is so much wisdom in this beautifully pared-back and gentle book.... [A] small, quiet gem, written in English so plain that it sparkles.
Anne Susskind - Sydney Morning Herald

A delicate, sneakily devastating evocation of place and character.... Haruf’s story accumulates resonance through carefully chosen details; the novel is quiet but never complacent.
The New Yorker

In a fitting and gorgeous end to a body of work that prizes resilience above all else, Haruf has bequeathed readers a map charting a future that is neither easy nor painless, but it’s also not something we have to bear alone.

Haruf once again banishes doubts.  Our souls can surprise us.  Beneath the surface of reticent lives—and of Haruf’s calm prose—they prove unexpectedly brave.
Ann Hulbert - Atlantic

(Starred review.) [A] gripping and tender novel.... [Haruf] returns to the landscape and daily life of Holt County, Colo.,...this time with a stunning sense of all that’s passed and the precious importance of the days that remain.
Publishers Weekly

(Starred review.) [A]cclaimed novelist Haruf captures small-town life to perfection in his signature spare style.... Poignant and eloquent, this novel resonates beyond the pages. Don't miss this exceptional work from a literary voice now stilled. —Donna Bettencourt, Mesa Cty. P.L., Palisade, CO
Library Journal

A sweet love story about the twilight years.... [Addie] and Louis find an emotional intimacy beyond anything either has previously known, and both come to recognize that they "deserve to be happy," no matter what friends and family think.... Those who have been immersed in Holt since Plainsong (1999) will appreciate one last visit.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
1. What does the title mean?

2. The novel begins with the word "and": "And then there was the day when Addie Moore made a call on Louis Waters." What do you imagine came before it?

3. Kent Haruf was known for using simple, spare language to create stories of great depth. How does the modest action in Our Souls at Night open onto larger insights about getting older?

4. It takes a considerable amount of courage for a woman of Addie’s generation to invite a man she hardly knows to sleep in her bed. What do you think propelled her to do it?

5. When Louis comes over for the first time, he knocks on her back door in the name of discretion. Addie says, "I made up my mind I’m not going to pay attention to what people think. I’ve done that too long—all my life. I’m not going to live that way anymore. The alley makes it seem we’re doing something wrong or something disgraceful, to be ashamed of" (8). How does her attitude influence Louis’s?

6. Both Louis and Addie have to contend with gossip about their relationship. Who handles it better?

7. What does Addie’s friendship with Ruth show us about Addie’s character?

8. Addie and Louis both had troubled marriages, but stayed married until their partners died. How does that sense of propriety, of loyalty, influence their relationship with each other?

9. In describing his affair, Louis says, "I think I regret hurting Tamara more than I do hurting my wife. I failed my spirit or something" (42). What does he mean by this?

10. Why did Addie refuse to move after Connie’s death? How did this decision color Gene’s reaction to his mother’s late-in-life love affair?

11. On page 52, Louis describes his relationship with Addie to his daughter, "It’s some kind of decision to be free. Even at our ages." Why does he feel freer with Addie than he does alone? How does his behavior become more uninhibited as the novel progresses?

12. How does Jamie’s arrival deepen the connection between Addie and Louis?

13. When Louis confesses that he wanted to be a poet, what effect does it have on Addie’s opinion of him? And on your opinion?

14. Addie and Louis both have regrets about the way they raised their children. How does that influence their relationship with Jamie?

15. Why did Addie buy new clothes for her trips to Denver that she never wears in Holt? What signal does it send to the reader?

16. On page 145, Addie mentions the Denver Center for the Performing Arts production of Benediction, based on the author’s own novel. Addie and Louis discuss the fact that it’s set in Holt, the fictional town in which they live. Why do you think Haruf slipped this into the story?

17. At the end of that conversation, Addie says, "Who would have thought at this time in our lives that we’d still have something like this. That it turns out we’re not finished with changes and excitements. And not all dried up in body and spirit" (147). What point is Haruf making?

18. Jamie’s arrival ultimately leads to grave consequences. What is Gene afraid of?

19. Several times during the novel, Addie is described as being brave, but she gives in to Gene’s demands. Is this a brave act? What is she protecting?

20. How would you describe the ending—as heartbreaking, hopeful, or something else?

21. In his final interview, conducted a few days before his death from interstitial lung disease, Haruf discussed Our Souls at Night: "The idea for the book has been floating around in my mind for quite a while. Now that I know I have, you know—a limited time—it was important to me to try to make good use of that time. So I went out there every day. Typically, I have always had a story pretty well plotted out before I start writing. This time I knew generally where the story was going, but I didn’t know very many of the details. So as it happened, I went out every day trusting myself to be able to add to the story each day. So I essentially wrote a new short chapter of the book every day. I’ve never had that experience before. I don’t want to get too fancy about it, but it was like something else was working to help me get this done. Call it a muse or spiritual guidance, I don’t know. All I know is that the trust I had in being able to write every day was helpful." How does reading this affect your understanding of the book?
(Questions issued by the publisher.)

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