Kent Haruf’s last novel before his death at the age of 71 is utterly heartbreaking, filled with warmth and compassion for the plight of lonely people, young and old, his characters resonating long after the final page is turned. Set in Holt, Colorado
(as are all Haruf’s stories), this is a tale of unexpected love between Addie Moore and Louis Waters. Both their spouses deceased, Addie and Louis are neighbors of many years who don’t know each other well, a fact that changes when Addie knocks on his door one night with an unusual proposition.
Tired of being alone, Addie suggests a simple solution: that Louis come and sleep with her at night, a warm presence to share a bed and talk about themselves, with no expectations of sexual intimacy, only someone to share the long hours of the night. Days will stay the same, each going about their usual tasks until nighttime. At
70, Addie has grown accustomed to the lack of physical touch, her years with her husband, Carl, devoid of true affection after the death of their eight-year-old daughter years before. With a son
who lives in Grand Junction and a six-year-old grandson, Addie has room in her life for a new friendship. Although taken aback, Louis, whose daughter Holly lives in Colorado Springs, makes a tentative agreement with Addie to try the experiment.
Either of them is free to cancel the arrangement at any time.
Addie has given much thought to her request, opened her heart and mind to spending the nighttime hours with Louis without guilt or shame, unconcerned with the predictable outrage of neighbors and townsfolk. It is an unexpected freedom both grow to relish, two very conventional adults enjoying relief from years of loneliness, exploring the luxury of sharing their stories, building the foundation of a unique relationship. The experiment becomes a successful combination of love and respect, the joining of two near-strangers willing to engage in mutual emotional comfort.
Their worlds expand, happiness found in the simple presence of another in the darkest hours before dawn. Even when Addie’s grandson, Jamie, comes to visit--his parents on the verge of divorce--Louis and Addie are able to accommodate the boy’s appearance, a patient Louis filling the need of a boy for male attention. Old man and boy bond over baseball games
and the acquisition of a dog as Addie basks in a newfound sense of family, the comfort the boy finds in their company. Such is the idyllic scenario of two joyful and generous hearts that recognize how seldom such gifts are bestowed in life.
It is an innovative, perhaps shocking concept, that two lonely strangers might have much to offer each other when their lives have become so small, their homes emptied of families and spouses. What is most attractive is the absolute rightness of such a solution despite the obvious risks, should those entering such a pact be willing to endure the likely criticisms of others. Haruf’s brave and beautiful rendering of late-found love, the joy of companionship, and the nurturing of a child by two people who love him unconditionally is tender and emotionally layered, a little provocative but perfectly sensible. The grumblings of family--Louis’s daughter, Addie’s son--seem unable to deter the couple from an innocent adventure that has so enriched their lives. Grown used to the respectful give and take of their relationship, the gradual blossoming of physical affection, there is an inevitability to this union that somehow escapes the smaller minds of those on the periphery. Life intrudes, but the hopeful spirit generated by Haruf’s deeply compassionate tale of love late in life is deeply touching and inspiring, a fitting final message before he left the world behind.