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As We Are Now

3.96  ·  Rating details ·  796 ratings  ·  122 reviews
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 ...more
Paperback, 144 pages
Published October 17th 1992 by W. W. Norton Company (first published 1973)
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Average rating 3.96  · 
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 ·  796 ratings  ·  122 reviews

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So many literary- and realistic fictions are on the same themes (e.g., domestic problems; coming-of-age), so I appreciate that author May Sarton did something totally different: told a simple story from the point of view of an elderly woman in a nursing home. The only other book I've read written from this viewpoint is the fantastic Water for Elephants, and it's one of the many things that makes that book great.

As We Are Now, however, doesn't have the sweep of Water for
Lisa Vegan
Aug 15, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everybody, especially caregivers for the elderly, May Sarton fans
This is one of the grimmest accounts of growing old I ever read. Its told with unflinching honesty by a perceptive elderly woman whos been put in a nursing home. Effective for engendering empathy for vulnerable older people, at least it was thought provoking for me when I read it many years ago as a young woman of 19 or 20 years old. Beautifully told but disturbing. I've been haunted by this story for years, and as I approach more closely the age of the heroine, I'm sure that reading about her ...more
Jo Ann
Feb 08, 2016 rated it really liked it
Tough - and wonderful - read. This is both a sad, and victorious, book; I thought a lot about my Mom and Dad, both of whom were in nursing homes...I do not think they felt, or lived, like the Caro in this book; for one thing, they had visitors at least every other day...but I still wonder what was often going on in their minds and hearts...I hope I know, because we talked a lot, and I think they were honest. But I saw others who broke my heart, who were not visited, whose minds were trending ...more
Sartons narrator, seventy-six-year-old Caroline Spencer, has given in. A retired high school math teacher, shes landed in a New England old folks home because during her recovery from a heart attack she failed to get along with her brothers younger wife. She finds kindred spirits in Standish Flint, a tough old farmer, and Reverend Thornhill, but her growing confusion and the homes pretty appalling conditions drive her to despair. This is enjoyable for the unreliable narrator and the twist ...more
Aug 01, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Any society, any culture can be judged pretty accurately by how they treat their most vulnerable members. The elderly specifically as is the case in this short novel. It's an epistolary journal entry of stream consciousness of a 76 year old woman physically quite able and completely in control of her mental faculties that chronicles her psychological decline as she's put into a care facility by her brother. Disturbing, harrowing and claustrophobic descent into a sort of incendiary madness. This ...more
May 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I just read a review that sums it up in three words - tough but necessary. Grim Grim Grim and maybe not for my mood at present (but it did make me want to go out and do something) And it's also beautifully written and paced . But not for the faint of heart.
David Edmonds
Nov 23, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Book Concierge
A finely crafted novella about aging and the indignity of being "stored" in a nursing home. It was written in 1973 and I have to ask, "Is it true today?" I love Caro's spirit, but am uncomfortable with the book. (The fact that I had just moved my mother to an Alzheimer's unit three months prior to reading this obviously colored my perspective.)
May 07, 2018 rated it liked it
Recommended to Lisa by: Jana
Postal book club round #5

I'm not sure how to take this book. I felt that she was old and senile and misrepresenting the situation she was in. She was paranoid and unhappy and I don't think that the people surrounding her were out to get her. I think they were doing their job. No one else in their reviews has mentioned this but I thought it the whole time.
Dec 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
Haunting work that is like The Yellow Wallpaper if it were told from the pov of an elderly woman warehoused in a prison-like nursing home.

So, last night I was listening to some podcasts when I came across the latest episode of "The Readers" ( One of Thomas' choices was As We Are Now by May Sarton. It sounded like something I would enjoy and couldn't believe that I had never heard of it before since it was published in 1973.

So, I went to to check for the title only to find that I could read it for free since I am an Amazon prime member. BONUS! Serendipity?

Since it's such a short
Stef Rozitis
I bought this book years ago and I hesitated to read it because I was very young and thought the ramblings of an old woman locked up would make tedious and depressing reading. I thought I ought to read it but I couldn't make myself.

I am glad I read it. Caro reflects on old age, powerlessness, agency (she is a resister and fighter to the end), friendship, love and what it is to be a human being. It was depressing. It made me think of the asylum seekers (some at the very beginning of their life)
This short, journal/stream of consciousness narrative is a gripping read. It is easy to get caught up in the despair, hatred, and forgetfulness of Caro (Caroline) Spencer, an elderly woman put into a home after a heart attack left her unable to live on her own.

Still with all her faculties, Caro finds herself in a dilapidated farmhouse/nursing home under the care of two women, Harriet and Rose, who are not the type of people who should be caring for the elderly and infirm. Instantly, Caro is at
Sep 27, 2010 rated it really liked it
Fantastic book. Quick Read.
An articulate older woman faces the aging process and the eventual loss of memory. To combat this time of loss, she writes notebooks on her life - a rock to turn back to when searching for who she "was".
I had to make sure that this was a novel because it reads like a memoir. Highly recommended to anyone who works in social services or with the aging. Or just people like me who are into their second mature years and viewing the prospects of aging with curiosity.
Feb 27, 2012 rated it really liked it
As she usually does, May Sarton cuts right to human frailty. Made me stop and think about those in nursing homes and the lonliness, despair and anger they feel. They are forgotton by family and society and treated as though they were invisible, as though they had never lived. The story could be upsetting to some, but if you want an insight into the elderly and their plight, this is a good read. The book is fiction, but most of us know someone in a nursing home and have heard from them how ...more
Jan 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: unhauled
I can't say that I loved reading this book, but it sure was a vivid, visceral portrait of old age and the physical and mental decline that can accompany life inside a nursing facility. Even though it was originally published some 40 years ago, I fear that at least some of the experiences that are described still hold true today. Five stars for its ability to evoke a strong, emotional response in the reader.
Sep 21, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, age
A startling, brave novel about a subject that most writers would ignore.
Jul 31, 2019 rated it liked it
"I am not mad, only old. I make this statement to give me courage. To give you an idea what I mean by courage, suffice it to say that it has taken two weeks for me to obtain this notebook and a pen. I am in a concentration camp for the old, a place where people dump their parents or relatives exactly as though it were an ash can."

And so begins May Sarton's novel, As We Are Now. Once again, I find myself in the minority of a recent read. Three of my blogging friends gave this slim novel (a mere
Dec 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
Almost certainly one of the most harrowing novels I've ever read. The most important author of my early adolescence was Stephen King, but no killer clown or undead pet could come close to conjuring the fear I have for declining in a ghastly nursing home, and being "subjected to subtle humiliations and petty cruelties" as the description here says. I feel emotionally ambushed.
Jun 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
It's not that often that I've read a book written from the perspective of a senior citizen, especially one in failing health. Such is the case of Caroline (Caro) Spencer.

Caro is 76 years old, a quiet, intelligent and sensitive woman. She never married and spent 40 years as a teacher. When she suffers a heart attack, she's no longer able to navigate the stairs in her home and briefly moves in with her older brother John, 80, and his much younger wife, Ginny. Soon after this brief stay, her
Aug 20, 2015 rated it it was amazing
As you are now, so once was I;
Prepare for death and follow me.

The epigraph of May Sartons novel As We Are Now reads frightening after fully witnessing its despair. The novel exposes the devastating isolation and deprivation of aging in a retirement home, a concentration camp for the old (9). Caro, the narrator, records her outward experiences and inward reflections in a journal, which exists as Sartons novel. Caro, an abandoned, physically weak woman, agonizingly craves comfort.

I found Caro's
Jenny Yates
Jun 04, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: old-age
This is pretty intense, sometimes brilliant, sometimes depressing. The novel is in the form of a journal written by an elderly woman, Caro Spencer, who has been placed in an old folks home. She had to leave her own home because she couldnt manage the staircase, and then she tried living with her brother and sister-in-law. This didnt work out, so she was left here, at Twin Elms Nursing Home, out in the country.

She starts to write the journal so that she can organize her thoughts, hold on to her
Nov 15, 2011 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sep 20, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2008
This was a sad book to read, but well done. Sarton really captured the trapped, desperate feeling of what a person (in this case, an elderly person in a nursing home) must experience when s/he encounters undeserved (and unexplainable) cruelty & hatred at the hands of caregivers, and feels powerless to change it. I thought the ending was a little abrupt, and it felt incomplete in that the event toward which the novel was building from the beginning was
left to be imagined in the mind of the
Heather Anderson Silvestro
A grim tale about a woman aging alone. Based on my knowledge of author May Sarton--Down East Magazine published a remarkable profile in May 2012 -- "As We Are Now" is a memoire masking as fiction. Relatable is Sarton's mercurial personality ("by equal measures someone who craved and shunned attention") the unnamed anger, the fire inside now reduced to a simmer as described in Down East's "Sarton by the Sea." Like Miss Caro Spencer -- main character and, tellingly, the novel's only developed ...more
Feb 01, 2010 rated it really liked it
76 year old Caroline Spencer has been dumped in a nursing home by her brother and his new wife. Caro suffered a mild heart attack, and with failing health and spinster status, no one wants to be responsible for her well-being. Her spirit remains strong even as her care in the nursing home deteriorates around her. She is a fierce personality forced to confront loneliness and death, and circumstances beyond her control. This personal diary reflects her thoughts on her new environment and ...more
Jan 25, 2016 rated it liked it
A fictional novel that's presented as non-fiction. Gives insight into the plight of the elderly. The story is presented as a journal being kept by an old woman who is put into a home for the elderly. The home is run by a woman who probably thinks that she is an overworked but competant caregiver who is doing the best that can be expected. In fact, she is a cruel woman who doesn't belong in the business of caregiving. The book depicts the old woman's decline in mental health. Is she really a ...more
Vanessa Largie
Oct 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
Journal of a Solitude remains my favourite of May's books. Her stream of consciousness writing style really suits her non-fiction and autobiographical pieces. Not sure if I appreciate it quite as much in her fiction.

I wanted to read this book because I am a child of elderly parents. By the time I was in my twenties, my parents were in nursing homes/hospices. So I am WELL aware, what goes on in them. And how the elderly are mistreated. This book was very hard for me to read, because it hit home
Jul 01, 2008 rated it really liked it
I read this wait. I bought this tiny powerful book years and years ago because when I was in high school my teacher Martha was doing a dissertation on May Sarton whom I had never heard of and I was impressed and there were whispers and outright discussions that martha was a big lez and I was fascinated (oh Felice - you are so sweet and slow sometimes) and that it was a big deal that she was doing research on this lez writer. Fast forward to almost 30 years later and I am reading this ...more
Whoa, tough book. This is a short novel about a woman who has been dumped in a crappy nursing home by her brother. With no other family or friends to visit, she slowly becomes depressed and wonders if she's going crazy. Her account of the experience is written as a journal and gives a sad but powerful picture of what it's like for some people who spend their last days in such a place, devoid of human compassion or hope. I think it would have been more effective if it had been longer and some of ...more
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May Sarton was born on May 3, 1912, in Wondelgem, Belgium, and grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Her first volume of poetry, Encounters in April, was published in 1937 and her first novel, The Single Hound, in 1938. An accomplished memoirist, Sarton boldly came out as a lesbian in her 1965 book Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing. Her later memoir, Journal of a Solitude, was an account of ...more

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