I’ve mentioned before that my mother is in search of good portrayals of older characters. This is a difficult quest, because most characters are under 40. Any older characters that do exist are usually experiencing dementia or reinforcing stereotypes by being grumpy or adorable, or both.
My favorite portrayal of an older character this year was Ove in Fredrik Backman’s A Man Called Ove (though he is grumpy and adorable). However, it turns out that Ove is not even 60 years old. Perhaps this is a case of a much younger writer imagining old age (Backman is 34), where anything over 50 is ancient.
Kent Haruf’s Our Souls At Night has two things going for it. One, Haruf himself was in his 70s when he wrote it, so the main characters are presumably rooted in real experience. And second, the older characters are fully functional people, living real lives. They do not exist to be the butt of a joke or an exploration of the process of illness or decoration in a family-gets-together-for-the-holidays drama.
The novel – or novella, or short story with very wide margins – follows two characters, Addie and Louis, who are both widowed and living in the same small Colorado town. Addie proposes a unique arrangement – that Louis come sleep (literally) with her at night. The setting is largely Addie’s bedroom, where the two talk and get to know each other and find companionship.
The reader gets to experience the development of a second chapter in these characters’ lives, one that is created after the traditional narrative ends (born, grow up, get married, have kids). We also get to see other people in their families and in the small town grapple with this second chapter (hint: not everyone thinks it’s so great).
I liked this story quite a bit, but I didn’t like the ending. This is the third book in a row where I’ve had this problem, which makes me think that there’s something going on with ME rather than the books I’m reading. In this case, I was disappointed in the novel’s abrupt turn.
Our Souls At Night was published after Haruf’s 2014 death. He reportedly finished it just days before he died. His obituary in the New York Times explains his writing process (e.g. pulling a hat over his eyes to better imagine Addie and Louis’ world).