At Eighty-two

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

AT EIGHTY-TWO has a poignancy throughout that is missing from May Sarton’s previous journals. Focused doubly on the tiny facets of daily life and the larger questions of the meaning of an overall career, this journal has a sadness in it that comes from the psychological depression and physical diminishment out of which it was composed, coupled with the fact that it is the first of Sarton’s much-loved journals to be published posthumously.

Those who are loyal readers of the Sarton journals will recognize familiar themes. Sarton struggles with solitude and relationships, with her creative self, with contradictory memories, with her own willfulness and lack of patience, with her love of animals and sensitivity to the natural world. Like Henry David Thoreau’s WALDEN, Sarton’s journals make poetry of the everyday, the contents of the house, the color of the sea, or the tragedy of a row of ancient trees falling. Added to these things in AT EIGHTY-TWO are the painful assessments of a life’s work when that life is almost done.

Besides entering the mind of the working writer, readers share in the thoughts of the intellectual who reads the news and critiques the latest novels and some of the most beloved books of her own past. Flowers arrive, as do guests. Readers also see Sarton at the most mundane—trying out new mattresses at a department store or whooping at the 1992 film SISTER ACT.

These small things are the components of which a life is made, and increasingly in Sarton’s eighty- second year, the ways in which it is diminished and compromised. Opening a can of soup for dinner becomes a battle of will, as does the doing of buttons. In time, the buttons become impossible, as do the three flights of stairs. Redundancy and contradiction in the entries emphasize not just the commonplace, but the physical state of Sarton’s health after a series of small strokes and a terrible depression that leads her to an experiment with Prozac. This is a journal that offers a fearless dissection of old age and identity.