One Night at a Time
BOOK VIEW : OUR SOULS AT NIGHT by Kent Haruf, 2014.
The mechanism of love remains a mystery. It cannot be quantified, but it can be described. This is what Kent Haruf achieved in his fifth and final novel, Our Souls at Night. It concerns an elderly couple who begin a new relationship with very specific boundaries. They have known one another only as longtime acquaintances, neighbors with a passing familiarity to one another and to each other’s long deceased spouses. The woman, Addie, approaches the man, Louis, and asks him to begin sleeping with her, but not sexually. Just sleeping in the same bed, talking, and somehow allowing each person to get through the night in restful sleep.
This is a story about people at an advanced age in life, and people who have lived in small-town America all of their lives. They are not looking for thrills, but to have a real human connection, and Addie’s idea is a novel way to begin. Theirs is a story about how to salve the ills of being old and alone. Humans are built to connect with one another, something that they lose over time living with one person and later, outliving them and being alone. The problem of being old means life gets shorter and shorter, and the younger people in one’s community, whether less old or much younger, will not relate to them, having not yet reached that point in their lives, accompanied by its unique perspective. What’s most difficult about being alone are the nights, the long stretches of time set aside for rest are often anything but restful. For our relationship to time is not a set of mere hour markers, but a response to everything that happens, or should happen, during our daytime lives. We should not only be busy and productive, but we should also have a caring and supportive partner who shares our outlook and experiences. We should be able to go to sleep with the knowledge that we are loved, and that we will continue to be loved.
The simple relationship that Addie and Louis achieve is so primal that it has no role to play in a public regard. Yes, they are a couple. Yes, they love one another. But their relationship is not part of a larger community of similar relationships, as traditionally defined as courting, romance, and marriage. It’s a love that doesn’t need any of those things, which are mired in romantic innocence and the struggles of the young. Without being young, and without needing the temptations of the flesh, one can commit to intimacy wholeheartedly. This of course jibes with any traditional notion of love. But that’s also what makes it interesting as a story. They are beleaguered by small mindedness, especially in the person of Addie’s grown son, Gene, whose own son Jamie lives with her and Louis for a time while Gene is attending to the simultaneous dissolution of his marriage and his business. Gene has serious doubts as to their relationship, and thinks all the worst things about Louis. These biases are wrought up in past events of their family, which Addie recounts to Louis during one of their nightly conversations. The question on your mind is surely whether or not their story ends well. All I can say, is that their love continues.