Kent Haruf is one of my all-time favourite authors. Plainsong, Eventide, and Benediction are all spare yet quietly gripping. The power of ordinary lives speaks volumes. There’s nothing extra, nothing unnecessary in his writing–it is a beautiful simplicity that sings. A slim novel, Our Souls at Night, is Haruf’s last. He finished it literally just months before he died. Indeed it feels like a coda, a postscript, a last conversation late at night before dropping off to sleep.
Louis and Addie live down the street from each other. They were never close when they had spouses and families, but they knew of each other. But now alone, with their children gone and the nights feeling so lonely, they embark on a brave endeavour that brings both pleasure and difficulty to their lives. A moving story about love and growing old with grace and how the elderly can often be misunderstood and their needs dismissed by the younger generation.
This book is one of Chapters Indigo’s ‘Heather’s Picks‘ which is a list that I pay attention to because they are often my favourites too. Heather Reisman’s synopsis of Kent Haruf so perfectly captures everything I love about this author’s writing, that I will quote her here and leave nothing more to add:
“We sometimes need to be reminded that a little hope is a seed that can grow in unexpected, powerful ways, that shared stories are what make us human, and that it’s never too late to start a new chapter – a new adventure – no matter where we are in our lives. Our Souls at Night is the last novel from the late Kent Haruf – a beautiful, aching reminder of these essential truths, and a poignant end to a literary life spent exploring private heartaches and small tragedies in the fictional town of Holt Colorado. I’ve rarely read a book that can be heartbreaking and hopeful in the same moment, but that is the genius of Kent Haruf.”
Kent Haruf writes a simply beautiful story. He doesn’t sugar coat or embellish or include anything unnecessary in the telling. The novel seems deceptively plain, as if it has been stripped down to the most raw and uncluttered version of itself, but at the same time it has such depth and some heart stopping suspenseful moments as well. Haruf captures what one of his characters calls “the precious ordinary” in our daily lives and achieves a soothing rhythym in his narrative like a graceful old hymn.
Benediction has the most touching deathbed scene I have ever read and yet there is a hopeful tone throughout. Secrets of human tragedy emerge as Haruf presents other characters such as Lyle, the controversial and troubled preacher and Frank, the Lewis’ estranged son. Everyone is broken and struggling in some way which is what makes the story so real. One reviewer said, “Dying as an unclean slate is not necessarily a death without peace.”
It’s no spoiler to say that Dad Lewis is dying. That is what this book is about. The story is set in a small rural town in Colorado and explores the pain, compassion, and humanity of the family and friends who come to say goodbye. Benediction is third in a series set in this community and though the earlier ones called Plainsong and Eventide are not necessary prerequisites to this book, they are also so good that you might want to read them in order if you can. The redemptive quality of community is what stands out for me as the central message in all of Haruf’s books. Life deals us hard blows and community is what helps to get us through. I read Plainsong and Eventide a very long time ago and I can still remember them so well.
Plainsong is a beautiful story of how two old farmer brothers awkwardly but warmly take in a young pregnant girl who has been cast out by her own family. “From simple elements, Haruf achieves a novel of wisdom and grace–a narrative that builds in strength and feeling until, as in a choral chant, the voices in the book surround, transport, and lift the reader off the ground.”
Eventide picks up exactly where Plainsong finishes, and continues the story of the two brothers and others in the community. “Eventide unveils the immemorial truths about human beings: their fragility and resilience, their selfishness and goodness, and their ability to find family in one another.”