All Souls at Night by Kent Haruf
Kent Haruf was dying of lung disease but decided he had an idea for a book—a book that told some of the story about him and his wife Cathy. Fortunately he did not take the usual 6 years to write the book, and in a mere 45 days got the book down on paper using his writing method—-blindfolded with a wool cap and typing on a manual typewriter, dealing (in his own way) with punctuation later. He and Cathy worked as vigorously as possible, given his condition, to get it ready before he passed; Cathy had to give it the final read to prepare it for publication.
Again the setting is Holt, Colorado, with which long-time readers have some background. But the most important setting is the bed of Addie, a 70ish widow, who invites Louis, a 70ish widower, to sleep with her to make the nights possible, and the relationship that develops. Although the town assumes their relationship is sexual, the intent of the invitation is not sexual at all but rather to enable two people to speak together in the dark of night and make it possible to sleep at night again, absent their current individual loneliness. We learn, at the same time as they learn, about each of their lives. We learn of the difficulties each marriage encountered and the impact of them. Their relationship is both complicated and enhanced when Addie’s grandson, Jamie, comes to stay with her over the summer while Addie’s son, Gene, tries to deal with his own marital issues. Addie and Louis help Jamie and he helps them.
Addie’s request to Louis is both simple and extraordinary. She knows what she wants and needs and is clear about what she’s offering and what she’s not. She’s prepared to be rebuffed and is grateful she’s not. I envy her clarity of purpose and her bravery. I think I’m not alone in feeling some small jealously that Addie and Louis are able to build a deep and meaningful relationship at all, much less in the face of town gossip and their children’s reactions. They must and do identify and break down barriers they have each evolved regarding rules of decorum. As they need to “take the plunge” early, I anticipate their ability to do this may be causal, vs coincidental, to their ability to share deeply and freely their personal flaws as evidenced by specific events in their lives. I recall a line from The Tie That Binds that summarizes them well: “…things you heard yourself telling them to her in the dark in the stopped car with your arm around her, because somehow it would be all right if she hear them and they would be true then.” (Note–italics new for this article).
This is a very interesting read. It’s highly engaging, sparse yet full, straight-ahead and unflinching, all of which are descriptors of its characters as well. The first sentence exemplifies several of these attributes and starts “And then there was the day when Addie Moore made a call on Louis Waters”. Haruf avoids a structure he used in his previous three novels, which was the telling of multiple parallel stories of somewhat connected but mainly not connected characters. We do learn about characters of importance to the main characters, but only because their inclusion is essential to the overall plot. Having a single storyline is more than sufficient for a Haruf novel. His first two novels, A Tie That Binds and Where You Once Belonged had a primary plot line but the stories were told primarily through an involved narrator who is part of the story. The “triology” had multiple story lines with somewhat connected characters. In this novel, the focus is fully on Addie and Louis with their dialog (punctuated) driving the story, supplemented by some information provided by a third person omniscient narrator, primarily to set the scene or fill in an overview of what happened between character dialogs. It’s possible Haruf used this approach as he knew the time available to write the book was very short. Or perhaps he felt so strongly about the story of these two people that he didn’t want it interrupted by the presence of another storyline. Or both and more, but regardless, the result is remarkable.
The story does not end with the “happy ever after marriage” we as readers might hope for them. But the ending is consistent with the characters we come to know and for whom we care. We are well satisfied, if not fully delighted with the conclusion.
Cathy Haruf revealed to the Wall Street Journal that she and Kent held hands and talked into the night, including the night of his passing. Jenifer Maloney’s WSJ article from May 14, 2015 tells us more about Kent and Cathy Haruf and is not to be missed (1)
Netflix has announced that they will make a Netflix Original Movie based on this book, starring Jane Fonda and Robert Redford. I respect both actors for the range of work they’ve done and especially their commitment to using older adult roles to teach that “older adults” can and do fully enjoy their “second (or third) act”. I anticipate this movie will help them also teach that self-realization and resulting wisdom really can continue through your life if one allows it. I also anticipate it will be tastefully done and respectful of the extraordinary work on which the movie will be based.