For those of us who’ve come to know and love Kent Haruf’s quietly brilliant novels set in the small town of Holt, Colorado, news of a new one is cause for celebration but this time the joy is muted. Haruf died last year and this is his last book. His insightful writing is clean and simple, stripped of ornament and all the more powerful for it. This last novel feels like a fitting end to the series: a beautiful, tender meditation on ageing and the joy it can sometimes bring along with sorrow.
Both widowed and in their seventies, Louis Waters and Addie Moore have lived on the same block for many years although they barely know each other. One day, tired of long, lonely nights, Addie knocks on Louis’ door and puts a proposition to him: she wants him to spend his nights in her bed. Somewhat taken aback, Louis ponders her proposal then decides to take her up on it. Packing his pyjamas and his toothbrush in a paper bag, he approaches Addie’s back door but Addie wants none of that. Tired of living her life by other people’s rules, she wants things out in the open. Tongues are soon wagging but Addie and Louis bat away the tittle-tattle: what they’ve discovered is too precious for small-town gossips to ruin. When Addie’s six-year-old grandson comes to stay, his parents in the midst of splitting up, the threesome go on day trips together but while the gossips can be ignored the concerns of grown up, resentful children cannot.
As Addie and Louis tell their stories, holding hands in the dark, we learn that neither of their lives has been quite what they’d hoped or expected them to be: tragedy, infidelity and loneliness have marked their marriages. Louis had wanted to be a poet but had settled for teaching the town’s children; Addie had thought to be a teacher but had become a secretary. Both have quietly got on with their disappointments. The tender intimacy they share now is as wholly unexpected as Addie’s approach had been to Louis. Both characters are beautifully drawn as is their eighty-two-year-old neighbour Ruth who labels the town’s gossips ‘small-town small-minded pissants’ making you want to clap your hands in applause. It’s a lovely book. You can feel filled with regret that such quiet happiness has come to Addie and Louis so late in life, or you can delight in them finding it at all when many people never do. I know which route they’d take. If you haven’t yet read Haruf get yourself down to a bookshop as soon as you can: his novels are absolute gems, the sort you’ll find yourself returning to again and again.