An unusual proposal

Book cover of Our Souls at Night shows the front of a house at night with the porch light on.

Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Our Souls at Night begins with Addie Moore paying a visit to her neighbor Louis and making an unusual proposal to him. Both around 70 and widowed, they’ve lived their whole lives in Holt, a fictional small Colorado town, and know a lot of the same people, but were never very close with each other. Still, Addie thinks Louis is a decent guy and asks if he’d like to start sleeping with her, literally–not having sex, but staying together for the companionship. From there, this compact novel sketches their growing relationship and the reactions of those around them, both friends and family. When Addie’s grandson arrives to stay with her, they form a sort of sweet makeshift family along with the elderly woman who lives in the house between them. But of course, this can’t last forever.

Kent Haruf was a Colorado author who died in 2014, and Our Souls at Night was his last novel. It’s written in a sparse style, with little description and much explained through dialogue. As a result, it moves along fairly quickly but gives you little access to its characters’ internal lives beyond what they choose to tell each other. The interactions between Addie and her son near the end of the novel, for example, as he turns the screws on her relationship with Louis are a somewhat frustrating puzzle. His attitude struck me as very flat and sitcom-y, with Addie’s thoughts on raising such a selfish, narrow-minded person left unexplored. Louis’s thoughts about it are glossed over as well. It functions mostly as a plot device to throw an obstacle in the way of their relationship, but little more.

In the end, this was an enjoyable but somewhat slight read. The novel has little of the depth of say, Sinclair Lewis‘s best depictions of small-town life in America. This was the first book I’ve read by Haruf, and I suspect that if you’re already a fan of his, it has enough charm that you’ll love it. I’m curious to try Plainsong, his most popular novel. This may not be the best of his books to start with.