The publication of these books, therefore,nis significant, if only because theyndeal sensitively with old age. In truth,nthe old have often been the subject ofnimportant literature—witness KingnLear. However, in recent decades the torrentnof fiction, poetry, drama and liberalnsociology has been centered obsessivelynon youth, particularly the radical youthnof the 60’s. In the late 70’s, as if cued bynthe denoument of Vietnam, a new demographicnfixation emerged in hard-covernpublishing and produced books advisingnhip, thirtyish college graduates how to benhyperassertive, how to get the most fromnthe opposite sex in the shortest time, hownto dress—as if this age group really had tonbe taught such things. It was no coincidence,nthen, that few books which expressedninterest in or respect for the agednwere written during these years. The 60’snand 70’s were a time of burgeoning governmentnsolicitousness on behalf of thenunderprivileged, including the elderly.nBut government social-welfare programsnprovide chiefly for the physical upkeep ofnthose who can’t afford it themselves. It isnthe maintenance of the spirit that is thentheme of Gold’s, Smith’s and Woiwode’snbooks. Each author details the effortsnof his aged characters to hold on tonwhat they believe is their place in thenworld. In this, Herbert Gold’s mother,nFrieda Volk Frankel Gold, in his memoir.nFamily, is triumphant. She provesnthat there can be a magic in growing old.nFor her, motherhood and wifehood becomeneven more complex when her twonsons leave the nest than in the franticnyears when they were young. She hatchesninnocent plots to keep them and her husbandnfascinated by her. She is the centernof their lives, not because she is domineering,nbut because she recognizes thatntheir heartaches and exhilarations arensomehow reflections of hers.nGold’s book is actually a biography ofnhis mother, tracing her family from thenUkraine to Cleveland. Frieda grew up innwonder and curiosity at America, aboutnwhich her mother said matter-of-factly,n”In America you can prefer one thing tonanother and then you can do the thingnyou prefer, unless you have to do thenother thing.” Frieda did what she preferred.nShe confides in her son Herbert thatnat seventeen she married a much oldernman, a pharmacist who needed a wifenand who would give her security. Butnsecurity was not what she wanted. Shortlynafter the wedding, while the pharmacistnstacked magazines, she jumped intonher brother’s truck and was gone. Shentells Herbert this as she tries to makensense of his affair with a married womannand instructs him precisely on where tonfind happiness: in independence to bensure, but also in a useful career as a professionalnman, as a graduate of CasenWestern, then in marriage, children—nher grandchildren.nHer son wanders uneasily—from coastnto coast, through two marriages, nevernsure of anything except, as the years gonby, that his mother has been right aboutnmost things. He sees, with a touch ofnsadness, how his daughter resembles notnher mother (his first wife) but his ownnmother. “The family should be togethernagain, it really should, Dad,” the girlntells him. Gold himself becomes angrandparent and grows old, but hisnmother never seems to. Dutifully, henvisits regularly as his father sinks withnParkinson’s disease and hardened arteries.nFrieda never gives up on either ofnthem, clasping the frayed ends of hernfamily together even as the extendednmembers, ex-wives and children of divorcengrow distant and formal, with allnthe accompanying regrets. She still fixesnnnGold’s favorite dishes when he returns.nThrough her, her son and his readers relearnnsome truths about motherhood: itnis ageless, the first fact of family life, andnit grows wherever it is transplanted. AsnGold writes:nLove is always asking, deciphering,nplus asking. Finally I needed to learnnthat this other way was my mother’snlove, it was what Hilda and Annanbrought through the dangerousnmountain-high waves of the Adantic.nIt is a kind of love, and I could cleavento my American desires, but I hadnbetter also accept her terms. It wasnwhat she was serving.nThat is, memory, “moments of pain andnthrill, and the dream images of thenpast.” Frieda understands, far betternthan her son, that the past is the key tonthe fiiture. Gold sees that much and acknowledgesnit. He makes us do so as well.nSmith’s Onliness is less lyrical andnpleasant. It is a tale of the confrontationnbetween a hardbitten, independent oldnman, Tom Zucold, who runs a ramshacklenauto-repair shop (Bowie Garage)nin Chapel, Virginia, and the Citizen’snCommittee, which wants to close himndown. Says Zucold, “They want everythingnmodernized, what they call it.nCan’t stand nothing old. Probablyn’cause they getting old.” Smith isnscmpulously faithful to the jagged-glassnidiom of the backwoods mountainnSouth, which makes his book a trial tonread.nTom Zucold picks up a semiliteratenhitchhiker whom he calls “The Grip”nbecause of his viselike handshake, and heninformally takes him on as an apprenticenat the Bowie Garage.nTom’s activities are modest: he followsnthe exploits of a champion pool shooter,nthe Carolina Kid, and introduces ThenGrip to a local nymphomaniac. PromisenLand, who turns out to be connected bynfamily to the vilUanous Citizen’s Committee.nThe novel traces the education ofnThe Grip at the hands of Tom Zucoldnand Promise Land, who teach him aboutnH H ^ ^ H S SnSeptember 198Sn