I’ve said this before… my favourite books are those where nothing much happens other than whole worlds change.
Oh my lord did I love this book of nothing and everything.
In a nutshell:
Louis Waters and Addie Moore are widowed, long time neighbours, who really only have a passing knowledge of each other’s lives, in the way of neighbours who have shared a street for decades. Aware but not involved.
They’re both good people. And, now, perhaps, also lonely.
The book opens with Addie knocking on Louis’ door and asking if he would be at all interested in sleeping with her. She means it literally. No funny business, just pj’s and slumber. Oh, and talking. That’s really what she’s looking for, that special kind of conversation that only happens when you’re lying in bed next to someone.
He continues to live in his own house in the same way he’s been doing for years, but at night he goes over to Addie’s for a single beer while she has a glass of wine and then they brush their teeth and hit the hay.
(The tooth-brushing is not incidental. Remember this is a story where nothing and everything happens. The details of life are beautifully wrought.)
Once in bed they talk.
At first, of course, it’s all awkwardness, but it evolves into something so essential to their well-being that neither of them can imagine living any other way. They’re not a couple but they’re more than friends. They come to reveal everything to each other in ways they never did in their marriages.
But people being people soon begin to pass judgments, especially those people unhappy in their own lives. Louis and Addie don’t give a fig. If anything the judgements only cause them to judge themselves (which is such a healthy reaction) and when they don’t find anything sinister about themselves they take it up a notch and begin hanging out together in public. Not necessarily an easy decision given how the elderly are made to feel they don’t count, that they hardly have a thought in their heads worth hearing.
Addie and Louis know this is the way old people are seen but they don’t see themselves or others this way. They have such wonderful, admirable balls.
A really charming part of the book is when Addie’s six year old grandson Jamie comes to live with her while Addie’s son Gene and his wife try to fix their marriage. Louis and Addie and the boy become a kind of family unit (along with Ruth, a friend of Addie’s) and Jamie is nourished in a way he’s never experienced. He stops crying, he’s able to sleep at night. Life is good.
“They ate a supper of macaroni and cheese casserole and iceberg lettuce with Thousand Island dressing and canned green beans and bread and butter and iced tea poured from an old heavy glass pitcher and there was Neapolitan ice cream for dessert. The dog lay at Jamie’s feet.”
All of which royally pisses off Addie’s son when he hears about all that happiness. He decides to pay a visit, assumes (the truly wonderful) Louis has nefarious intentions, chastises his mother for her lifestyle and takes Jamie back home well before his marriage is anywhere near fixed. Then he forces Addie to choose between her relationship with Louis and her relationship with her grandson.
This is one of those deliciously slender books, easily read in a day, spare writing yet saying all that needs to be said, in the way of the best conversations. Satisfying to the core. I would read this one again and again for the layers it reveals and the questions it asks us to consider about family, friendship, intimacy, community, loyalty and aging. For starters.
Haruf is new to me but I’m already looking for more of his earlier work.
Available online at two of my favourite indies — Hunter Street Books and Blue Heron Books.