OLD JOHN by Peter Hartling
Kirkus Star


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Published in Germany in 1981, this novel by the author of last year's Batchelder Award book (Crutches) is a refreshingly realistic, funny portrait of an idiosyncratic 75-year-old who moves in with his daughter's family. A family debate sets the tone: Father, didactic but soon betrayed as having more bark than bite, presents the difficulties of inviting Old John to live with them, but is clearly as fond of his wife's father as are his two children. John does provide some awkward moments: he makes friends with the town drunk, wears a scandalously skimpy bathing suit to the town pool, and falls boyishly in love with a lady who likes him--but who draws the line when he wants to live with her. On the other hand, John defends a local girl from her abusive father and (to the kids' delight) smuggles a puppy into the family. The Schirmers' joys and anxieties as they cope with this lovable but troublesome grandparent--as well as adjust to the changes as he grows older--are universal experiences that gain clarity here in the context of a slightly different culture. After a stroke, Old John gets more unpredictable, irresponsible, even paranoic--phenomena that are much more frequently encountered than discussed. An affectionately comic, memorable portrayal of a vibrantly individual old man lucky enough to have a family united in the difficult, loving task of caring for him until the end.

Pub Date: April 23rd, 1990
Page count: 120pp
Publisher: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard