Isn’t nice when a writer leaves a screenwriter some material that he or she can mold and make come to life? Well, the late Kent Haruf did just that when he wrote Our Souls at Night. I happened to pick it up from the New Books Shelf at the public library.
The plot is unique where a widow knocks on her neighbor’s door who is a widower and asks him to do something quite unusual. She, Addie Moore, asks him to come over and spend the nights with her. She admits that the nights are the hardest for her and she simply wants to talk.
Louis Waters, a former high school teacher, is taken aback and quietly contemplates her offer. They both have been alone for years and ultimately each feels that there is little to lose. So, on the next night, he travels through the alley with his pajamas and a toothbrush in a paperback. He knocks on her back door and thus, the story unfolds.
In the small town where they live, tongues start wagging but they are in their seventies and they are quite oblivious to what others think about their actions. They proceed and share many intimate details of their lives.
She talks about the tragic loss of her young daughter who was hit by a car. Both her husband and son basically shut down and their marriage suffered along with the loss of any intimacy. He, on the other hand, had an affair with a school teacher which almost ruined his marriage and did indeed destroy the other woman’s marriage.
Both Addie and Louis continue their new routine and at one point, they decide to make a public showing. As others gawk, they walk down a main street arm in arm. Just as they are reveling in their new-found friendship, the unthinkable happens.
Addie’s son calls and says that his wife has abandoned the family and that his finances are in shambles. He asks her to take in her seven-year old grandson Jamie for the summer. This leaves Louis wondering how and if he will fit into the new scenario.
Fortunately, Jamie is in need of a lot of comfort, so the three of them have a number of experiences that help them bond. He accepts and gets used to Louis coming over at night; they play catch ball; they go on a hike in the mountains and Louis gets him a dog as a reassuring companion.
And then, crash. Gene, Addie’s son comes to her house outraged that she is allowing Louis to stay over around his son and things get pretty salty. It was a prime example of how some people cannot run their own lives, but they still feel the need to control others.
As I was reading the book, I met a woman who saw the cover and told me that Our Souls at Night had been made into a movie. To my astonishment, not only was it a movie, it starred Jane Fonda and Robert Redford. Who knew? I was excited and knew that I had to compare the two after finishing the book.
Afterwards, I was able to see a blurred version of the 2017 movie on You Tube which I observed closely. The script pretty much followed the book with a few exceptions. In the book, Louis used a family of mice to entertain little Jamie but the movie chose an electric train set instead. Also, the movie added a scene which included Louis’ adult daughter Holly. And most importantly, it minimized the son’s aversion to their union and this made for a much lighter ending.
When I finished the book, I was a bit disturbed because Addie was so vulnerable and was being victimized by her controlling son. He made her leave her house after she experienced a fall. She was subjected to him and his yelling wife who had returned home. Addie had to sneak and call Louis to talk and it made me think of Romeo and Juliet’s tragic ending.
However, the movie’s ending was more tolerable and it left me feeling hopeful. Yes, she did move in with her son and grandson after having a fall, but in the movie, the wife did not return home. It seemed like a more peaceful living arrangement for the three of them. And yes, she does call Louis but she does not sneak and it signals a happy continuation of their relationship.
Thank goodness for great writers and thank goodness for optimistic screenwriters who know the importance of leaving their viewers with a good feeling!
Lynn M. June 9, 2018
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