Picks and Pans Review: Old Friends

updated 10/04/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/04/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Tracy Kidder

The old friends in the title are Lou Freed, 90, and Joe Torchio, 72, residents at Linda Manor nursing home near Northampton, Mass. Lou, a shoemaker's son, is a gentle family man who abhors salty language. Joe, a former probation officer, is a rougher sort whose temperamental outbursts mask a sensitive soul. Cast together as roommates, the two men become fast friends. This is not just the story of their quiet heroism in the face of death but a celebration of the regenerative abilities of the human spirit.

Like a novelist, Kidder, whose previous nonfiction books include Among Schoolchildren, House and The Soul of a New Machine (which won a Pulitzer Prize in 1982), drenches himself in character and event, then delivers an account that is alternately spry, comical and heartbreaking. The residents of Linda Manor show uncommon courage as they cope within "a community founded merely on illness," and some of them are better for it. Of mercurial Joe, Kidder writes, "Strangely...when his powers to act had greatly diminished, Joe had taken control of his life." It is largely Lou's friendship, Kidder shows in this eloquent work, that has not only transformed Joe's life but has also lent new meaning to Lou's own. (Houghton Mifflin, $22.95)

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