Book Discussion Questions: Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf

Our Souls at Night book coverTitle:  Our Souls at Night
Author:  Kent Haruf
Page Count: 179 pages
Genre:  Literary Fiction, Love Stories
Tone:  Reflective, Bittersweet, Moving

Summary:
In Holt, Colorado, widower Louis Waters is initially thrown when the widowed Addie Moore suggests that they spend time together, in bed, to stave off loneliness, but soon they are exchanging confidences and memories.

SPOILER WARNING: These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points if you have not read the book.

The Library is happy to share these original questions for your use. If reproducing, please credit with the following statement:  2017 Mount Prospect Public Library. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.

1. Imagine yourself a resident of Holt. If you discovered (or suspected) the evening visits, would you have an opinion? What if you were a member of the family?

2. The first sentences read, “And then there was the day when Addie Moore made a call on Louis Waters. It was an evening in May just before full dark.” In your opinion, how effective is this as a first line? What does it convey?

  1. 3. Is it significant that the proposal was at Addie’s instigation rather than Louis’s? How so? What would have been different in the story otherwise?

4. Does this proposal seem outrageous to you? Understandable? Was it brave?

5. Ruth says of Louis, “But he’s no saint. He’s caused his share of pain.” Did that surprise you at the time? Is it better for the story than Louis isn’t a saint?

6. The arrangement is a chance for these two individuals to revisit with each other what has happened in their pasts. What is the appeal of this? Which of those memories made the biggest impact on their relationship? On you as a reader?

7. How interesting is it for a reader to just listen in on characters’ conversations? Is it a talent of the author to make this interesting? Did you want something more to happen?

8. Do the characters think of this relationship as casual? At what point do you think the relationship became more for Addie? For Louis?

9. Was it inevitable that their relationship became sexual? Did you want it to? Were you surprised how deep into the story we were before it did?

10. We see strong instances of their children reproaching the parents about this arrangement. What did you think of that?

11. Gene could arguably be a villain in this story. What did you think of him? Was he at all justified in his concerns or actions?

12. How did the introduction of Jamie change their relationship? Of Bonny?

13. Contrast their interactions with Jamie to what we know of their relationships with their own children.

14. In one passage, Louis confesses:

I think I regret hurting Tamara more than I do hurting my wife. I failed my spirit or something. I missed some kind of call to be something more than a mediocre high school English teacher in a little dirt-blown town.

What does this tell us about Louis? Does it affect your view of him?

15. In what places of the story did you find humor?

16. Gene gives an ultimatum. Did Addie make the right choice? Is there a ‘right’ choice?

17. Later, Addie calls (again, her initiative) and wants to connect again. At first Louis balks, asking, “isn’t this the sneaking around we didn’t want to do?” What would you have done?

18. Did you want more from the ending? Why did Haruf make this choice?

19. A New York Times review asserts that Haruf’s “great subject was the struggle of decency against small-mindedness, and his rare gift was to make sheer decency a moving subject.” Do you see evidence of this struggle in Our Souls at Night? Again, putting yourself in the place of an observer/family, would you take any issue with the word ‘decency’?

20. This book was written as Haruf knew his time was limited. What did he want most to say? Should this be in our minds as we read? If you knew, did this affect your reading of the story?

21. When undertaking the project, Haruf told his wife Cathy, “I’m going to write a book about us.” What elements do you suspect were autobiographical?

22. Did you find the lack of quotation marks distracting? Why might the author make this choice?

23. Haruf’s style is almost always described as “spare” and his characters “plainspoken”. Are these qualities appealing to you?

24. Do you think his style and chosen setting may have held him back from wider recognition?

25. One writer commented that Our Souls at Night “engages sentiment without becoming sentimental”. What do you think about that statement?

26. Is this a sad or heavy book? How would you describe the feeling to someone else?

27. An upcoming film adaptation stars Robert Redford and Jane Fonda. How does that fit the characters in your mind? Are you interested in viewing the film?

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OTHER RESOURCES:

Kent Haruf’s Last Novel is a Beautiful Gift” via The Oregonian
Final interview with Kent Haruf courtesy of Denver Center of Performing Arts
Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel review and analysis of Our Souls at Night
LitLovers discussion guide
Our Souls at Night competes in the Tournament of Books
Cathy Haruf on Her Husband’s Final Novel” via Knopf Doubleday

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