A Place Called Canterbury: A Portrait of the New Old Age in America

A Place Called Canterbury: A Portrait of the New Old Age in America

by Dudley Clendinen
     
 

Old age in America is not what it used to be

In 1994 New York Times writer Dudley Clendinen's mother—a Southern matron of iron will but creaking bones—sold her house and moved to Canterbury Tower, a geriatric apartment building with full services and a nursing wing in Tampa Bay. There she landed in a microcosm of the New Old Age.

Overview

Old age in America is not what it used to be

In 1994 New York Times writer Dudley Clendinen's mother—a Southern matron of iron will but creaking bones—sold her house and moved to Canterbury Tower, a geriatric apartment building with full services and a nursing wing in Tampa Bay. There she landed in a microcosm of the New Old Age. Canterbury was filled not just with old Tampa neighbors but also with strangers from across the country. Wealthy, middle class, or barely afloat; Christian, Jewish, or faithless; proud, widowed, or still married; grumpy or dear—they had all come together, at the average age of eighty-six, in search of a last place to live and die.

A Place Called Canterbury is a beautifully written, often hilarious, deeply moving look at how the oldest Americans are living with the reality of living longer. Peopled by brave, daffy, memorable characters determined to grow old with dignity—and to help one another avoid the dreaded nursing wing—A Place Called Canterbury is a kind of soap opera. Likewise, it is a poignant chronicle of the last years of the Greatest Generation and their children, the Boomers, as they are drawn into old age with their parents. A Place Called Canterbury is an essential read for anyone with aging parents and anyone wondering what their own old age will look like.

Editorial Reviews

Roy Blount Jr.
If you've ever had a mother, you will love this book. (Roy Blount Jr., author of Long Time Leaving: Dispatches from Up South)
Nathalie Dupree
Canterbury's walls rock with geriatrics who live every moment to its fullest, with tales of food from cloud-like biscuits before church, to snacks after sex and martinis with social debate. Through it all, the elegance and humor of a generation who laughed and loved through a depression and a great war, surviving to live and die with grace, will have you laughing and crying. You will love every morsel of the Canterbury tales. (Nathalie Dupree, Television Cooking host and Cookbook Author)
Linda Ellerbee
Clendinen has written a modern masterpiece. It isn't about old age. It's about all of us, a brilliant celebration of what it means to be a human being. I laughed and wept and was changed by reading A Place Called Canterbury. I'm buying copies for my family, my friends, their parents, and all our children. It is a gift to be shared, this wonderful, wonderful book.
Janet Maslin
Mr. Clendinen made a smart decision in structuring his book as something other than a story of decline. His mother's health did fail at Canterbury, and he conveys his own worry and grief at seeing this happen. But he finds graceful, subtle ways to slip between the past and present, so that his mother remains a wonderfully imposing figure even at her weakest moments. And he populates the book with brightly drawn characters who give the place its reigning mood, "a slow, good-humored dottiness and dignity."
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

Former New York Timesreporter Clendinen tells how he persuaded his frail mother to sell her house and move to Canterbury Tower in Florida, a geriatric apartment building where many of her friends already lived. With caring staff, a swimming pool, spacious apartments and cocktail parties, the place seemed almost idyllic, and "Mother" (as the author refers to her) spent her first four years there in a whirl of social activities. But in 1998, the 83-year-old suffered a stroke and eventually moves into the nursing wing, finally succumbing in early 2007. Around this central narrative, Clendinen spins other stories and observations about the lifestyles of the "new old age." He also describes how his mother's old friends ignored her completely when she was wheeled into the apartment tower for a cabaret after her stroke and his painful decision to withdraw her medications. Overall, Clendinen offers a mixed bag, with some stories coming across as poignant and others depressing, in need of some larger meaning-which could have been found, perhaps, in either Clendinen's own alluded-to midlife crisis or a more robust discussion of senior care. (May)

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Kirkus Reviews
Sometimes touching, sometimes humorous, sometimes windy meditation on how today's elderly live. In 1994, three years after her husband's death, the ailing mother of former New York Times staffer Clendinen took up residence in a Tampa Bay "life care" facility called Canterbury Tower. Not long thereafter, in an effort to get a feel for how she was going to live out her final years, Clendinen moved into the Florida apartment building and, much to his surprise, found himself enjoying the residents, the camaraderie and the sense of community. He "set out to be their diarist and chronicler," and his mother, who died in 2007, undoubtedly would have been delighted by the result. Similar in concept though not nearly as goofy as Rodney Rothman's successful Early Bird: A Memoir of Premature Retirement (2005), Clendinen's portrait of his mother and her fellows is guileless and warmhearted. He has no axe to grind; he just wants to tell a story. But his appealing book suffers from bloat, the same problem that afflicted his debut (Out For Good: The Struggle to Build a Gay Rights Movement in America, 1999). It grows tiresome to read about the minutia of each Canterbury day, especially the endless discussions about food. That may be Clendinen's point: Minutia is all these frail, elderly folks remain able to cope with. But does anyone else want to read about it?Will attract a niche audience, but few beyond that.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780670018840
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
05/01/2008
Pages:
400
Product dimensions:
9.18(w) x 6.20(h) x 1.27(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Related Subjects

Meet the Author

Dudley Clendinen is a former national reporter and editorial writer for The New York Times. He is the editor of a book of essays, The Prevailing South, and the author of the text for a book of photographs, Homeless in America. He is coauthor of Out for Good: The Struggle to Build a Gay Rights Movement in America.

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