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Old Friends is an account by journalist Tracy Kidder of a year spent observing the residents in a 121-bed nursing home located in Northampton, Massachusetts, Linda Manor. Although the main characters on whom Kidder focuses are two roommates, Joe Torchio and Lou Freed, who despite very different social backgrounds and lives become the "Old Friends" of the title, Kidder also describes the daily lives and social interactions of many other residents as well.
The main issue confronted in the book is the relationship of family to aging in the post-modern world. In the developed world, the past few centuries have witnessed a major transformation in family life, from the earlier model of an extended family existing as a commonly domiciled economic unit to the nuclear family. In previous centuries, the aged would simply continue living with their extended families until their deaths, with multi-generation households the norm.
With the decline of the extended family, aging becomes more complex. Many people remain unmarried, do not have children, divorce, or otherwise move into old age with a network of familial support. The growth of institutions such as retirement communities or such nursing homes as Linda Manor respond to this transformation of family life. Kidder both emphasizes the absence of the extended family as a support system in this book and the way that the elective affinities of friendship work to build a different sort of community based not on blood connections but on shared activities, interests, situations, and sympathies. Kidder also addresses some of the economic issues underlying aging.
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