Picks and Pans Review: Talking With...

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

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

>Tracy Kidder

WITNESS TO THE FINAL DAYS

WHEN TRACY KIDDER'S EDITOR, RICHARD Todd, suggested that he write about life in a nursing home, the author resisted, considering the topic dull and unpleasant. Then he became intrigued. "Some of the sights, sounds and smells were horrifying," he says. "But I got used to that. I could see the people beneath the symptoms. Most difficult were moments when I'd be overwhelmed by the cruelty of these endings for perfectly lovely people."

Kidder, 47, visited Linda Manor (near his Western Massachusetts home) for nearly a year, filling 90 notebooks with his observations and writing 10 drafts before he had a polished manuscript. "I like the writing in this book better than in the other ones," he says. "It's more precise."

Writing was not Kidder's first career choice. Born in New York City, the lawyer's son majored in government at Harvard until, bored during a lecture given by Professor Henry Kissinger, he decided to sign up for English. "I thought writing was a good way to meet girls." (It was not until seven years later, however, that he met his wife, Frances, a painter and mother of their two children, Nathaniel, 19, and Alice, 14.) After a year as an Army intelligence officer in Vietnam and three years at the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop, Kidder eked out a living as a freelance writer before mastering the art of the nonfiction best-seller.

Though Old Friends is finished, Kidder continues to visit Lou and Joe. Would the writer himself want to end his years in a nursing home? "Maybe, if I had a friend," he says, "I could stand it."

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