Tag Archives: lush writing

Book Review: Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf

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.
A lovely hardcover of Our Souls at Night from the public library.
A lovely hardcover of Our Souls at Night from the public library.
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.
Our Souls at Night Book Cover Our Souls at Night
Kent Haruf
Fiction
Knopf Publishing Group
May 26, 2015
Hardcover
192
Public Library

A senior-aged widow and widower forge a loving bond over shared loneliness and respective histories, provoking local gossip and the disapproval of their grown children in ways that are further complicated by an extended visit by a sad young grandchild.

My Reading Wheelhouse: the books that give me the vapors

 

Cat leaping toward books in a bookshop
My spirit animal in action

 

Being such an avid reader, I have grown to understand those types of books which make me weak in the knees, give me the vapors, and generally have me leaping in the air to grab any book that fits my specific loves.

In no particular order, I love the following categories.  I included some examples of how I describe them.  These books may not have all been 5 stars but they fit this concept, in my mind at least.

 

What I want to attempt to read more of in the future:

  • Short stories– What I tend to find is that many short stories pack a punch with strange twists or awkward interactions at the center.  I don’t generally enjoy those as they leave me a bit sad and cold.  I like more emotive than plot based short stories. I read The Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpha Lahiri and it was a bullseye for everything I was looking for in a short story collection.  It was evocative, thoughtful, poignant and very beautifully written.  I fell in love with the cover of the Clarice Lispector work of Complete Stories and so when I read some fantastic reviews of it, I went out and bought a copy. I anticipate that the hunt for more lovely short stories collections will be something that I continue in 2016.
  • Non-fiction tales about death and dying– Not really the party pleaser of topics, but recently I have been drawn to a more nuanced understanding of death, dying, grief, and all the things that go with it.  Not for any specific reason, but I think reading A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara last year opened this door on the nature of suffering and questions of the inevitability of death.  I have a few books waiting in the wings for when I feel able to devote the mental and emotional space to reading them.  They are: Being Mortal by Atul Gawande and an ARC of the  newly released When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi.
    • Science Fiction– I am late to this party.  There have been a few scifi books that made indelible impressions upon me (I’m talking about you, Dune !) but it isn’t a genre that I felt confident in exploring.  But last year’s Read Harder Challenge had a science fiction book as one of the tasks and in researching it, I found a treasure trove of material.  I was swept away by Moxyland by Lauren Beukes.  It was fun, sporadic, modern and filled with action.  I also read The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell which blew my mind with the plot complexity, the rich characters and the depths of the themes explored.  This year I have ventured a little deeper into the genre with N.K. Jemisin’s The Killing Moon.  That book came from a discussion of The Sparrow I had at a party and it was suggested that I look into her work.  What a revelation!  It hit so many of my most loved categories- lush writing, a swashbuckling tale, with political intrigue thrown in. I am looking forward to the second book in that series.  And then I just read an amazing book, which is probably no surprise to anyone else in the reading world… Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. What a stunning read!  And in all fairness, it isn’t a straight genre read or a straight literary fiction book, but something in between.  But that in between was magical.

Any suggestions along the themes I listed above?