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Our Souls at Night

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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 Hardcover edition.

“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, The New York Times Book Review

“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, The Washington Post

“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

“More Winesburg that 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, The Charleston Post and Courier

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

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

“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, The 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, The Philadelphia Enquirer

“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, The Dallas Morning News

“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, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“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, The Lincoln Journal Star

“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 

“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, The Jackson Clarion-Ledger

“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,The Sydney Morning Herald

“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.” —Esquire

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

“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, The Atlantic

“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, The Seattle Times

“A parting gift [and] a reminder of how profoundly we will miss Holt and its people, and Kent Haruf's extraordinary writing.” —Sandra Dallas, The Denver Post
 
1

And then there was the day when Addie Moore made a call on Louis Waters. It was an evening in May just before full dark.

They lived a block apart on Cedar Street in the oldest part of town with elm trees and hackberry and a single maple grown up along the curb and green lawns running back from the sidewalk to the two-­story houses. It had been warm in the day but it had turned off cool now in the evening. She went along the sidewalk under the trees and turned in at Louis’s house.

When Louis came to the door she said, Could I come in and talk to you about something?

They sat down in the living room. Can I get you something to drink? Some tea?

No thank you. I might not be here long enough to drink it. She looked around. Your house looks nice.

Diane always kept a nice house. I’ve tried a little bit.

It still looks nice, she said. I haven’t been in here for years.

She looked out the windows at the side yard where the night was settling in and out into the kitchen where there was a light shining over the sink and counters. It all looked clean and orderly. He was watching her. She was a good-­looking woman, he had always thought so. She’d had dark hair when she was younger, but it was white now and cut short. She was still shapely, only a little heavy at the waist and hips.

You probably wonder what I’m doing here, she said.

Well, I didn’t think you came over to tell me my house looks nice.

No. I want to suggest something to you.

Oh?

Yes. A kind of proposal.

Okay.

Not marriage, she said.

I didn’t think that either.

But it’s a kind of marriage-­like question. But I don’t know if I can now. I’m getting cold feet. She laughed a little. That’s sort of like marriage, isn’t it.

What is?

Cold feet.

It can be.

Yes. Well, I’m just going to say it.

I’m listening, Louis said.

I wonder if you would consider coming to my house sometimes to sleep with me.

What? How do you mean?

I mean we’re both alone. We’ve been by ourselves for too long. For years. I’m lonely. I think you might be too. I wonder if you would come and sleep in the night with me. And talk.

He stared at her, watching her, curious now, cautious.

You don’t say anything. Have I taken your breath away? she said.

I guess you have.

I’m not talking about sex.

I wondered.

No, not sex. I’m not looking at it that way. I think I’ve lost any sexual impulse a long time ago. I’m talking about getting through the night. And lying warm in bed, companionably. Lying down in bed together and you staying the night. The nights are the worst. Don’t you think?

Yes. I think so.

I end up taking pills to go to sleep and reading too late and then I feel groggy the next day. No use at all to myself or anybody else.

I’ve had that myself.

But I think I could sleep again if there were someone else in bed with me. Someone nice. The closeness of that. Talking in the night, in the dark. She waited. What do you think?

I don’t know. When would you want to start?

Whenever you want to. If, she said, you want to. This week.

Let me think about it.

All right. But I want you to call me on the day you’re coming if that happens. So I’ll know to expect you.

All right.

I’ll be waiting to hear from you.

What if I snore?

Then you’ll snore, or you’ll learn to quit.

He laughed. That would be a first.

She stood and went out and walked back home, and he stood at the door watching her, this medium-­sized seventy-­year-­old woman with white hair walking away under the trees in the patches of light thrown out by the corner street lamp. What in the hell, he said. Now don’t get ahead of yourself.

2

The next day Louis went to the barber on Main Street and had his hair cut short and neat, a kind of buzz cut, and asked the barber if he still shaved people and the barber said he did, so he got a shave too. Then he went home and called Addie and said, I’d like to come over tonight if that’s still all right.

Yes, it is, she said. I’m glad.

He ate a light supper, just a sandwich and a glass of milk, he didn’t want to feel heavy and laden in her bed, and then he took a long hot shower and scrubbed himself thoroughly. He trimmed his fingernails and toenails and at dark he went out the back door and walked up the back alley carrying a paper sack with his pajamas and toothbrush inside. It was dark in the alley and his feet made a rasping noise in the gravel. A light was showing in the house across the alley and he could see the woman in profile there at the sink in the kitchen. He went on into Addie Moore’s backyard past the garage and the garden and knocked on the back door. He waited quite a while. A car drove by on the street out front, its headlights shining. He could hear the high school kids over on Main Street honking their horns at one another. Then the porch light came on above his head and the door opened.

What are you doing back here? Addie said.

I thought it would be less likely for people to see me.

I don’t care about that. They’ll know. Someone will see. Come by the front door out on the front sidewalk. 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.

I’ve been a schoolteacher in a little town too long, he said. That’s what it is. But all right. I’ll come by the front door the next time. If there is a next time.

Don’t you think there will be? she said. Is this just a one-­night stand?

I don’t know. Maybe. Minus the sex part of that, of course. I don’t know how this will go.

Don’t you have any faith? she said.

In you, I do. I can have faith in you. I see that already. But I’m not sure I can be equal to you.

What are you talking about? How do you mean that?

In courage, he said. Willingness to risk.

Yes, but you’re here.
© Cathy Haruf
Kent Haruf is the author of five previous novels (and, with the photographer Peter Brown, West of Last Chance). His honors include a Whiting Foundation Writers’ Award, the Mountains & Plains Booksellers Award, the Wallace Stegner Award, and a special citation from the PEN/Hemingway Foundation; he was also a finalist for the National Book Award, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and the New Yorker Book Award. He died in November 2014, at the age of seventy-one. View titles by Kent Haruf

About

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 Hardcover edition.

“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, The New York Times Book Review

“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, The Washington Post

“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

“More Winesburg that 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, The Charleston Post and Courier

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

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

“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, The 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, The Philadelphia Enquirer

“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, The Dallas Morning News

“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, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“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, The Lincoln Journal Star

“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 

“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, The Jackson Clarion-Ledger

“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,The Sydney Morning Herald

“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.” —Esquire

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

“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, The Atlantic

“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, The Seattle Times

“A parting gift [and] a reminder of how profoundly we will miss Holt and its people, and Kent Haruf's extraordinary writing.” —Sandra Dallas, The Denver Post
 

Excerpt

1

And then there was the day when Addie Moore made a call on Louis Waters. It was an evening in May just before full dark.

They lived a block apart on Cedar Street in the oldest part of town with elm trees and hackberry and a single maple grown up along the curb and green lawns running back from the sidewalk to the two-­story houses. It had been warm in the day but it had turned off cool now in the evening. She went along the sidewalk under the trees and turned in at Louis’s house.

When Louis came to the door she said, Could I come in and talk to you about something?

They sat down in the living room. Can I get you something to drink? Some tea?

No thank you. I might not be here long enough to drink it. She looked around. Your house looks nice.

Diane always kept a nice house. I’ve tried a little bit.

It still looks nice, she said. I haven’t been in here for years.

She looked out the windows at the side yard where the night was settling in and out into the kitchen where there was a light shining over the sink and counters. It all looked clean and orderly. He was watching her. She was a good-­looking woman, he had always thought so. She’d had dark hair when she was younger, but it was white now and cut short. She was still shapely, only a little heavy at the waist and hips.

You probably wonder what I’m doing here, she said.

Well, I didn’t think you came over to tell me my house looks nice.

No. I want to suggest something to you.

Oh?

Yes. A kind of proposal.

Okay.

Not marriage, she said.

I didn’t think that either.

But it’s a kind of marriage-­like question. But I don’t know if I can now. I’m getting cold feet. She laughed a little. That’s sort of like marriage, isn’t it.

What is?

Cold feet.

It can be.

Yes. Well, I’m just going to say it.

I’m listening, Louis said.

I wonder if you would consider coming to my house sometimes to sleep with me.

What? How do you mean?

I mean we’re both alone. We’ve been by ourselves for too long. For years. I’m lonely. I think you might be too. I wonder if you would come and sleep in the night with me. And talk.

He stared at her, watching her, curious now, cautious.

You don’t say anything. Have I taken your breath away? she said.

I guess you have.

I’m not talking about sex.

I wondered.

No, not sex. I’m not looking at it that way. I think I’ve lost any sexual impulse a long time ago. I’m talking about getting through the night. And lying warm in bed, companionably. Lying down in bed together and you staying the night. The nights are the worst. Don’t you think?

Yes. I think so.

I end up taking pills to go to sleep and reading too late and then I feel groggy the next day. No use at all to myself or anybody else.

I’ve had that myself.

But I think I could sleep again if there were someone else in bed with me. Someone nice. The closeness of that. Talking in the night, in the dark. She waited. What do you think?

I don’t know. When would you want to start?

Whenever you want to. If, she said, you want to. This week.

Let me think about it.

All right. But I want you to call me on the day you’re coming if that happens. So I’ll know to expect you.

All right.

I’ll be waiting to hear from you.

What if I snore?

Then you’ll snore, or you’ll learn to quit.

He laughed. That would be a first.

She stood and went out and walked back home, and he stood at the door watching her, this medium-­sized seventy-­year-­old woman with white hair walking away under the trees in the patches of light thrown out by the corner street lamp. What in the hell, he said. Now don’t get ahead of yourself.

2

The next day Louis went to the barber on Main Street and had his hair cut short and neat, a kind of buzz cut, and asked the barber if he still shaved people and the barber said he did, so he got a shave too. Then he went home and called Addie and said, I’d like to come over tonight if that’s still all right.

Yes, it is, she said. I’m glad.

He ate a light supper, just a sandwich and a glass of milk, he didn’t want to feel heavy and laden in her bed, and then he took a long hot shower and scrubbed himself thoroughly. He trimmed his fingernails and toenails and at dark he went out the back door and walked up the back alley carrying a paper sack with his pajamas and toothbrush inside. It was dark in the alley and his feet made a rasping noise in the gravel. A light was showing in the house across the alley and he could see the woman in profile there at the sink in the kitchen. He went on into Addie Moore’s backyard past the garage and the garden and knocked on the back door. He waited quite a while. A car drove by on the street out front, its headlights shining. He could hear the high school kids over on Main Street honking their horns at one another. Then the porch light came on above his head and the door opened.

What are you doing back here? Addie said.

I thought it would be less likely for people to see me.

I don’t care about that. They’ll know. Someone will see. Come by the front door out on the front sidewalk. 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.

I’ve been a schoolteacher in a little town too long, he said. That’s what it is. But all right. I’ll come by the front door the next time. If there is a next time.

Don’t you think there will be? she said. Is this just a one-­night stand?

I don’t know. Maybe. Minus the sex part of that, of course. I don’t know how this will go.

Don’t you have any faith? she said.

In you, I do. I can have faith in you. I see that already. But I’m not sure I can be equal to you.

What are you talking about? How do you mean that?

In courage, he said. Willingness to risk.

Yes, but you’re here.

Author

© Cathy Haruf
Kent Haruf is the author of five previous novels (and, with the photographer Peter Brown, West of Last Chance). His honors include a Whiting Foundation Writers’ Award, the Mountains & Plains Booksellers Award, the Wallace Stegner Award, and a special citation from the PEN/Hemingway Foundation; he was also a finalist for the National Book Award, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and the New Yorker Book Award. He died in November 2014, at the age of seventy-one. View titles by Kent Haruf

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