OLD FRIENDS by Tracy Kidder


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 An eloquent account, neither bitter nor saccharine, of daily life in a nursing home. The Pulitzer-winning Kidder (Among Schoolchildren, 1989, etc.) has a unique talent for transforming the minutiae of living into a mosaic that brings focus to issues--like aging--that have become diffuse intellectual exercises or emotionally charged agendas. Center stage here are two men--Lou, in his 90s, and Joe, in his 70s--roommates by chance in a nursing home in western Massachusetts. Lou is gentle and considerate, Joe gruff and passionate. Lou leads Joe to a new thoughtfulness, and Joe listens patiently to Lou's frequent retellings of boyhood stories. Kidder captures their characters, their growing friendship, and their wit through a straightforward narration that's extraordinarily revealing about courage in the face of sickness and age. He visited the nursing home every day for a year, talking to and observing residents, relatives and friends who visited, and staff. We meet Eleanor the actress; Winifred the activist, who must be hoisted mechanically from her bed and lowered into her wheelchair; Art the bon vivant; and others in varying stages of mental and physical impairment. Kidder's sympathetic viewpoint doesn't gloss over the pain, loneliness, and humiliation of deteriorating faculties. As he points out, American culture's current ``celebration...of `successful aging,' often depicted in photographs of old folks wearing tennis clothes, leaves out a lot of people...more than a million of them in nursing homes now.'' Missing here, though, are the viewpoints of the Linda Manor staff, heard from only indirectly as they interact with residents. Rich detail and true-to-the-ear dialogue let the brave and determined elderly speak for themselves--and for the continually surprising potential of the human spirit.

Pub Date: Sept. 20th, 1993
ISBN: 0-395-59303-4
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 1993


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