As We Are Now
by May Sarton
Published by W. W. Norton & Company, October 17, 1992 (1973)
144 Pages • ISBN 978-0393309577 • Paperback
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"I am not mad, only old... I am in a concentration camp for the old."
So begins May Sarton's short, swift blow of a novel, about the powerlessness of the old and the rage it can bring. As We Are Now tells the story of Caroline Spencer, a 76-year-old retired schoolteacher, mentally strong but physically frail, who has been moved by relatives into a "home." Subjected to subtle humiliations and petty cruelties, sustained for too short a time by the love of another person, she fights back with all she has, and in a powerful climax wins a terrible victory.
A searing look at the hopelessness of despair, loneliness and old age, May Sarton's As We Are Now is a powerful study of a woman's resolve to relinquish herself by any means possible from the depths of the anger and anguish she feels from her surroundings. Told through the journals of Caro Spencer who has moved into a "home," not due to a lack of mental strength but of a physical frailty that leaves her unable to live alone. She keeps the journals at first as a record of her days as she fears she is losing her memory, but later the journals become a record of the mistreatment that she and the other "inmates" must endure at the hands of the two women who run the home. Told over the course of several months, this is the story of one woman's battle against age and the carelessness that the elderly can be treated with.
This is a powerful book, told quickly and to the point, and there are times that you forget you are reading a novel and feel like you are being given a first-hand account of a woman's battle against her keepers. I found myself feeling hopeless as there should be something that I could do to help ease her suffering, but then I would need to remind myself that this is a novel. One of Sarton's more powerful works.