What does it feel like to be old? Not middle-aged, or late-middle-aged, but one of the members of the fastest-growing demographic: the “oldest old,” those aged eighty-five and above? This has been the question animating me for a couple of years, as I’ve tried to write a novel from the perspective of a man in his late eighties. The aging population is on our collective minds; a statistic that intrigued me is that the average life expectancy in the U.K.—and, by extension, most of the rich West—isincreasing by more than five hours a day, every day. I’m in my mid-thirties, but felt confident that I could imagine my way into old age. How hard could it be, really?
Somewhere along the way, though, things went wrong. My protagonist became Generic Old Man: crabby, computer illiterate, grieving for his dementia-addled wife. Not satisfied to leave him to his misery, I forced on him a new love interest, Eccentric Old Woman: radical, full of energy, a fan of wearing magenta turbans and handing out safe-sex pamphlets outside retirement homes.
– The New Yorker