I picked this book up after hearing about the story’s premise, which I found endearing and lovely. Having just finished reading The Stranger by Albert Camus, I was feeling a bit unmoored and desolate. I needed a boost of something more heartfelt. I could not have planned this better, if I had tried.
It was a chance situation, in fact. I had been forced from the coziness of my apartment to go down to the local library branch to prove that I was still alive and living in the area, as they request their patrons do every 2 years, in order to renew my library card. I primarily use the library for digital books, so I didn’t want to be without access to new reads for a weekend. (I’m a little anxious like that.) While I was there, I looked at their recent arrivals area and found The Cartel by Don Winslow which was recommended to me by a good friend, the Buddha manga series by Osamu Tezuka, and this gem of a book. I was delighted!
The story is about a 70 year old widower, Louis, who is asked by a widow neighbor, Addie, whom he only knows in passing, to sleep with her in a surprisingly matter of fact manner. She is lonely and assumes that he is, too. She doesn’t want sex, but the comfort of talking to someone in the dark and laying next to someone as they drift off to sleep. They begin an intimate and caring relationship which is deepened by the arrival of her young grandson. I won’t go further into the plot as I don’t want to spoil the book.
What I loved about the book was it’s narrative style and the themes. One of the first things you notice when picking it up is the lack of quotation marks. It threw me off balance at first, but once I adjusted, I found that device ended up drawing me in more closely. This is a quiet, slow and tender book. When I had to put the book down and then return to it, I was repeatedly shocked by how much of the story was compressed into a few paragraphs. The actions taken are small, but resonant. The conversation is sparse, but meaningful. It is a pleasure of a book to read.
The setting is midwestern Americana- a quiet suburb near the country. The descriptions of the scenery were beautiful, as was the delicate interplay of Addie and Louis. I especially loved how I felt safe to let go and falling into this story. I didn’t feel there was going to be a huge twist near the end that would shock or break me. I did worry about the characters, but I trusted that the author wouldn’t crush my soul. And my trust was well placed.
I truly fell in love with these characters. The widow Addie is so sensible and plain speaking while warm and loving. Louis is considerate while he is playing catch up to her idea. Jamie is a good kid who is scared and confused, hungry for parental love and Gene, Jamie’s father, is the scarred son who can’t move past failures. The town is also a big character in the story- reigning in, observing, judging, approving and disapproving, trying to set the pace for what should be acceptable of people their ages.
The themes Haruf are conveying hum clearly throughout the book- the crippling isolation of aging, the need to continue to take risks in life, and the importance of human touch and interaction. This is really a gem of a book. I gave it 5 of 5 stars and I would recommend it for people who like life affirming stories, discerning readers who need well crafted books as well as strong substance, those who like character driven books, and anyone who just needs to get their heart muscle pumping again.