Monday, August 17, 2015


"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."

Kent Haruf was a writer full of grace. When he died last year, at the too-young age of 71, we lost one of our best, most soulful artists. He did, however, leave his readers one last treasure. A slim, small-bound novel titled Our Souls at Night, published six months after his death.

Haruf has long been one of my favorite wordsmiths, one of those rare writers who can seemingly write about nothing and still make one swoon. Our Souls at Night clocks in at less than 200 pages, so it's easily read in one sitting. But if you're like me and want to savor your last visit to Holt, Colorado, the chapters are also quite short, lending itself nicely to parsing out the wonder a bit at a time.

Our Souls at Night opens with a short paragraph, quoted at the top of this page. It is the story of Addie and Louis, both widowed and in their seventies, living a block apart on Cedar Street but never knowing each other very well. One evening Addie knocks on Louis's door and asks if she can come in and talk to him about something.

She musters her courage and asks if Louis would consider coming to her house and sleeping with her sometimes at night. They're both alone, have been alone for too long. Addie just wants someone to lie with, to talk to, just a means of getting through the nights. Because the nights are the worst.

Louis agrees, somewhat cautiously and hesitantly, and so they begin. That's really all you need to know. On the surface, that's all there is. But the "that's all," through Haruf's words, is a depth that's almost unparalleled. Haruf writes about the human heart better than most, and I'm guessing you'll fall in love with Addie and Louis just as I did.

Of course there's more to the story. Holt is a small town, people talk, gossip flies. Addie and Louis each have distant families, and they know word will trickle out to them soon enough. Addie doesn't care. She has spent too much of her life caring what other people think. She is tired of regrets and doesn't care anymore. She's going to live her life in front of the world. I loved her for that. I think Louis did, too.

Addie and Louis's story is heartwarming and heartrending. When life throws Addie an unexpected curve, their relationship is tested on many fronts. But they also find that even at 70, though their lives perhaps didn't turn out right or they way they expected, they have managed to find something good to be experienced, together.

Haruf's prose and dialogue are spare and true. He can say more in less than 200 pages than some authors say in twice that. Our Souls at Night is about freedom and friendship, love and second chances, loyalty and family bonds. If this has to be the last Kent Haruf book I read, it's a fitting end to the stories from Holt, Colorado.

I closing, I will say this: Kent Haruf had a way of expressing what is true and what is important. Addie says, “I just want to live simply and pay attention to what’s happening each day; And come sleep with you at night.” And at another point: “I do love this physical world. I love this physical life with you. And the air and the country. The backyard, the gravel in the back alley. The grass. The cool nights. Lying in bed talking with you in the dark.” That is all.

STREET SENSE: Our Souls at Night is one last beautiful lesson from the master. If you've read Haruf, you'll love this last visit. If you've not read Haruf, you'll still love it if you enjoy clean and lean prose packed with emotion. If you must start here, do so, but I think I enjoyed it all the more, especially knowing it was the last, by having the Haruf backlist under my belt. Not necessarily all of it, but maybe at least Plainsong.

A FAVORITE PASSAGE:  Who does ever get what they want? It doesn't seem to happen to many of us if any at all. It's always two people bumping against each other blindly, acting out of old ideas and dreams and mistaken understandings.

COVER NERD SAYS:  Oh boy. Simply gorgeous. And perfectly apt. It's the photographic version of Haruf's writing: clean and spare, full dark with some ashy light on top. And unlike some of Haruf's other works I think the proportions are even apropos here. I love everything about this cover and it will certainly be on my list of the year's best.

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About Malcolm Avenue Review

I was lucky enough to be born and raised in a nifty, oak-shaded ranch house on Malcolm Avenue, a wide-laned residential street with little through traffic, located amid the foothills of Northern California. It was on that street and in that house I learned most of my adolescent life lessons, and many grown-up ones to boot. Malcolm Avenue was "home" for more than thirty years.

It was on Malcolm Avenue, through and with my family and the other families that made up our neighborhood of characters, that I first learned about and gained an appreciation for the things I continue to love the most to this day: music, animals, photography, sports, television/movies and, of course, books.

I owe a debt of gratitude to that life on Malcolm Avenue. It gave me a sense of community and friendship, support and adventure. For better and worse, life on that street likely had the biggest impact on the person I've become. So this blog, and the things I write here, are all, at their base level, a little bit of a love letter to Malcolm Avenue.


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