Saturday, November 10, 2007

Those 73-Year-Olds: A Review

The protagonists of Howard Englander's twenty short tales or fictional portraits (73 ,BookSurge, 2007) are all seventy-three years old. All are struggling with the inevitable changes and problems that old age brings: the loss of employment-related esteem, of beauty, of energy, of loved ones. While we may laugh at the characters' foibles and their unjustified expectations, we also laugh with them as we realize that they are old and dealing with matters we are all likely to face, or have faced already.

There's Morris, who snaps and is accused of assault after he encounters "all those Barbie and Ken doll look-alikes jabbering away on their cell phones non-stop . . . everybody talking, talking, talking . . . nobody listening . . . I was invisible, an alien from another planet." This episode triggers memories of the past, when his grandmother used a wall-mounted party-line phone and looked upon the dial system as a new-fangled invention.

There's Jake, crazed by the death of his beloved wife, whose imagination conjures up an elaborate plan to shoot a holocaust-denying university professor, but who settles for writing a letter to the editor of the Chicago Tribune.

There are sexual fantasies (mostly male), youth and beauty fantasies propelled by repeated plastic surgeries, fantasies of impressing former classmates at collIege reunions, fantasies of happy living in idyllic but impractical locations, of finding meaning through mystical meditation. In a sense, none of these fantasies becomes reality, but the message seems to be, "Too bad, but we won't stop trying."

I can't say that I always appreciated the well-intentioned senior and Jewish stereotypes hinted at in Mr. Englander's book (I am over 73; I'm not Jewish, although my late husband was), and I found the sans serif typeface in this book a bit difficult to read. Still, I like any book that dares to depict active seniors in a society that, according to a blurb on this book's cover, "regards people in their seventies like old cars ready for the junk heap."

Howard Englander and I both know we elders have our problems, and that we aren't ready for the junk heap. While we probably wouldn't agree on what's funny, we both know that a sense of humor is very useful. Despite a few reservations about it, I am glad I read this book.

I hope Mr. Englander, a "nationally recognized advertising writer and commercial director" who is now a freelance writer and part-time tour guide in Chicago, will continue writing, with more details about his own apparently fascinating life.

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne


seniorwriter said...

A Posrscript: Terrisa Meeks, of the "Just Write" blog, points out that while women seem to be comfortable pouring out their thoughts and personal experiences in memoirs, men are more likely to hide their personal experiences and thoughts in fiction or poetry. Perhaps that's why my reaction to Mr. Englander's book involved a wish that he'd reveal more about himself. It is, indeed, easier to laugh at others than at oneself.

Colleen said...

I visited your blog today due to Ronni's (Time Goes By) encouragement!
I'm looking forward to reading more.

seniorwriter said...


Welcome, and do come back. I don't have a new post every day, but I write as many as I have time and ideas for.