Sometime earlier this year, I added Kent Haruf to my list of ‘books/authors to read’. I’d not heard of him before but caught some reviews of his final work, Our Souls at Night. In a second-hand bookstore in New York City (favourite destinations, both), I found a hardback copy which then sat on my shelf of ‘unread’ for a while (and yes, I am quite systematic in my reading consumption).
When I picked it up recently, I was astonished by its grace, by its clarity. Haruf’s prose is simple and compelling; his pared back recitations of domesticity happen in real time. I followed the characters through the minutiae of their tasks, one step after another and I was there too, in his novel, seeing what they were seeing, absorbing their reality.
Its spare beauty reminded me of a yoga teacher I knew once who told us that a perfect stance can be held with every muscle engaged but no visible movement at all.
Our Souls at Night dwells on the loneliness that can be so real in our splendid, suburban isolation, divided by our houses and gardens and fences and oppressed by its gatekeepers’ rigid codes. In this world, an arrangement to share lives is embarked upon, its comforts and delights gradually taking the place of trepidation.
I was reminded of Marilyn French’s The Bleeding Heart which I read many years ago. Her protagonists in this 1980s feminist love story are brought together by chance and share a short, beautiful period, inhabiting a place which is not their ‘real lives’.
It asks how can we live? How can we find a place with our friends, with our families, with their demands and our own? Rigid expectations again.
The couples in both books, one mid-life, the other nearer the end, look inwardly; in the long stories they tell each other, we see how they came to be the people they are now, with all their quirks and foibles and shortcomings and offerings.
In the distillation of their characters, the authors might help us find something in our own that we’d not seen before.