Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like
Our Souls at Night, this sweet and sad novel by Kent Haruf, has been made, unfortunately, into a movie starring Robert Redford and Jane Fonda. Together again. Barefoot in the Park this ain’t.
The novel’s conceit, that two unmarried, older people can keep more or less platonic company at night just to connect and fight off loneliness, is a little bit of a stretch, but since both parties – Louis and Addie – are surviving spouses (paired untimely deaths of not-that-terrific mates make this union reasonable, I guess), I’m willing to suspend disbelief for a short book like this. There’s a little bit of sex, but they mainly just talk and sleep.
It’s a spare and quiet novel, and I bet that if it weren’t for Haruf’s established reputation, no publisher would have touched it if it came in over the transom. “Too quiet.” That said, quiet is the perfect mood for a story like this. Two people trying something atypical, something that might be seen as immoral in this small town of Holt, Colorado. Society won’t like it one bit, and doesn’t. Nor does Addie’s son. But the reader sees that the new relationship isn’t just harmless, it’s beneficial to each of them, and full of humanity. It shows us that there are all kinds of possible relationships that work for the members of that relationship. Society shouldn’t quash partnerships that are good for goose and gander. And for certain children. Addie’s grandson is lucky to have Louis and Addie caring for him for a while.
All novels must have conflict, and one does evolve here. I won’t spoil the plot by describing it, but I will say that we root for this unlikely couple throughout and understand their complications. The world has a way of pressuring the innocent.
I’m afraid that the movie, though critics seem to like it so far, will overplay the sentimental angles of the story. I’d much rather have seen unknown actors in it, partly because I didn’t envision these two actors as these characters and I don’t want to. Hollywood has a way schmaltzifying everything so that the nuances of Haruf’s writing are likely to be lost. His clarity, brevity, and apt use of detail are essential here, and even his dialogue without quotation marks seems right for the material.
The book, though, is a quick read that takes the reader into the private journey of two people who, as late as it is, find that they need each other. It’s touching and often profound. If it hadn’t been taken already, the perfect title for this love story would have been Tender is the Night.