The End Game: How Inequality Shapes Our Final Years. Corey M. Abramson. Harvard University Press. 2015.
Corey Abramson’s book, The End Game: How Inequality Shapes Our Final Years, takes readers on a journey through geriatric inequality to illustrate how the supposed golden years of retirement remain an illusion for many individuals. Michael Warren writes that the book offers an admirable attempt to assess a key question, namely how the provision of services for the elderly can cater to individual circumstances rather than treating pensioners as a unified group.
“I just sit around all week dying, and watching others waiting to die” is one of the many candid melancholy admissions by aged interviewees in Corey Abramson’s The End Game: How Inequality Shapes Our Final Years. Abramson takes readers on a journey through geriatric inequality to show how on the west coast of the US the supposed golden years of post-employment for many individuals is an illusion, and in reality retirement is a corrosive quotidian struggle on body and soul. However, the saddening tone of this ethnographic work serves many purposes by shedding light on: the effects of social networks; rationalisations behind decision-making; greater understanding of general social stratification; and the symbolic as well as practical challenges of growing old in the US.
The End Game has been produced from two and a half years of fieldwork in four neighbourhoods of the California Bay Area whilst Abramson was a PhD student at Berkeley (he is currently Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Arizona). The book takes its title from using facets of baseball to explain inequality in the latter years of American lives. Even for non-baseball aficionados like me, the analogy works. In fact, bafflement at baseball is the desired effect! For it is only when Abramson watches a baseball game with an interviewee that he realises in spite of knowing all the parts of the game, he only has a ‘superficial’ understanding and did not fully comprehend baseball’s ‘connections between the players, team dynamics, rules, strategies, individual backstories…’. Accordingly, the book is organised into five sections alluding to the game: “(1) Who gets to play, (2) the rules of the game, (3) the shape of the playing field, (4) the strategies of the players, and (5) team dynamics”.
Where Abramson frequently succeeds is in showing how individuals who are in drastically similar circumstances act in profoundly different ways. For example, the academic presents two women who face breast cancer with ‘nearly indistinguishable’ backgrounds, ages and material resources yet approach the ailment in opposing ways (one religiously attends chemotherapy, whilst the other often skips chemotherapy appointments). Abramson delves deep into cultural orientations and motivations which brought the two to such differing opinions, and in doing so begins to challenge many of the long-held stereotypes attached to becoming a geriatric. The reader encounters elders with a propensity to devour ice cream after weight loss surgery, heavily drink alcohol and consume marijuana. Abramson shows that these are not simply reckless hedonists, but can be ‘educated and articulate’ and consciously choose to skip chemotherapy in a bid to maximise enjoyment in their few remaining twilight years for valid reasons (as the reader learns when they vividly read of the stress of simply keeping up with a healthy regimen).