Months before his death in November 2014, Kent Haruf—one of Colorado’s most celebrated novelists—visited with 5280 associate editor Chris Outcalt. On multiple occasions at Haruf’s home in Salida, they discussed reading, writing, and the meaning of life, some of which Outcalt writes about in “The Precious Ordinary” in our June issue.
Haruf’s sixth and final novel, Our Souls At Night, was published in May, bringing fans of his work back once more to the fictional town of Holt, Colorado. Here, read an excerpt from Haruf’s acclaimed book:
Addie drove her car into the alley behind her neighbor Ruth’s house, got out and went up to the back door. The old lady was waiting, sitting in a chair on the porch. She was eighty-two years old. She stood up when Addie arrived and the two women came slowly down the steps, Ruth holding on to Addie’s arm, and came out to the car and Addie helped her in and waited for her to arrange her thin legs and feet and then she fastened the seatbelt and shut the door. They drove to the grocery store on the highway at the southeast side of town. There were only a few cars in the parking lot, a slow summer’s midmorning. They went in and Ruth held on to the shopping cart and they moved slowly through the aisles, looking, taking their time. She didn’t want or need much, just cans or cartons of food, and a loaf of bread and a bag of little Hershey bars in foil. Aren’t you going to get anything? she said.
No, Addie said. I shopped the other day. I’ll just get some milk.
I shouldn’t eat this chocolate but what difference does it make now. I’m going to eat whatever I want to.
She put canned soup and stew in her cart and boxes of frozen dinners and a couple of boxes of dry cereal and a quart of milk and some strawberry preserves.
Is that everything?
I believe so.
Don’t you want some fruit?
I don’t want fresh fruit. It’ll just spoil. They went around to the canned fruit and she took down two cans of peaches in their sweet syrup and some canned pears, then a box of oatmeal cookies with raisins. At the cash register the clerk looked at the old lady and said, Did you find everything, Mrs. Joyce? Everything you wanted?
I didn’t find me a good man. I didn’t see one of them on the shelf. No, I couldn’t find any good man back there.
Couldn’t you? Well, sometimes they’re closer to home than you think. She glanced quickly at Addie standing next to the old lady.
How much is it? Ruth said.
The clerk told her.
Your blouse has a spot on it, Ruth said. It’s not clean. You shouldn’t come to work dressed like that.
The clerk looked down. I don’t see anything.
She took her money from her old soft leather purse and slowly counted out the money in her hand and laid the bills and coins on the counter in neat order.
Then they went out to the car and Addie put the groceries in the back seat and got in.
Ruth was looking straight ahead at the highway, where the cars and cattle trucks and grain trucks were going by. Sometimes I hate this place, she said. Some- times I wish I had gotten out of here when I could. These small-town small-minded pissants, she said.
You’re talking about that clerk.
Her, yes, and everybody like her.
Do you know her?
She’s one of the Coxes. Her mother was just the same. Thought she knew everybody’s business. Had a mouth like this one. She makes me want to give her a good slap.
So you know about Louis and me, Addie said.
I get up early every morning. I can’t sleep. And I sit out in the front room watching the sun come up over the houses across the street. I see Louis in the morning going home.
I knew somebody would see him. It doesn’t matter.
I hope you’re having a good time.
He’s a good man. Don’t you think?
I think so. But the returns aren’t all in yet, either. He’s always been kind to me, though, she said. He mows my lawn and shovels the snow on my walks in the winter. He started that before Diane died. But he’s no saint. He’s caused his share of pain. I could tell you about that. His wife could’ve told you.
I don’t think that’ll be necessary, Addie said.
That was a long time ago anyway, Ruth said. Years ago. I think his wife mostly got over it. People do.
Excerpted from Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf. Copyright © 2015 by Kent Haruf. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
—Photo by Sarah Boyum