THE LAST TIME I SAW YOU by Elizabeth Berg

Book Quote:

“I think I had to get this old to understand some things I really needed to know. I needed to suffer some humiliation and to pick up a few battle scars. It’s made me less shallow, and for more appreciative of everything…. Getting older is hard, you lose an awful lot. But I don’t know, I think it’s worth the trade.”

Book Review:

Review by Eleanor Bukowsky (MAY 22, 2010)

Why would anyone want to attend their fortieth high school reunion? We find out in Elizabeth Berg’s bittersweet novel, The Last Time I Saw You. The author introduces us to a diverse group of people in their late fifties who still remember what it was like to be an adolescent at Whitley High.

Fifty-eight year old Dorothy Shauman is divorced and desperate to reconnect with the best-looking guy in the class, Pete Decker, “the football player, the prom king.” As Dorothy gazes at herself in the mirror, she “raises her chin so her turkey neck disappears.” Her imagination runs wild as she predicts how she and Pete will banter, flirt, and subsequently leave the others behind to spend some quality time alone. Mary Alice Mayhew had been shunned by her high-school classmates because of her dowdiness and lack of social skills. Although she has never been married, she claims to be content with her quiet and solitary existence. “She has learned not to let hurt take up residence inside her.” However, there will be someone at the reunion whom she has thought about and would like to see.

Widower and loner Lester Hessenpfeffer is devoted to the animals he cares for in his veterinary practice, and would rather not attend the reunion at all; however, his assistant, Jeanine, hounds him into going. Pete Decker left his wife, Nora, for a younger woman, and now regrets his rash behavior; his mistress is vapid and his wife has started dating someone else. He hopes to win her back at the get-together. Candy Sullivan, the most desirable female in the class, is miserable in her marriage to an aloof and controlling husband. She needs to get away from him while she makes some tough decisions about her future.

Berg has a field day with her lively and diverse cast, all of whom still have a great deal to learn about life. As the former classmates ponder who they were forty years earlier and how they have changed, they are forced to admit that some of their choices may have been misguided. They wonder if it is too late to seek the happiness that has eluded them. Can a loner find companionship at an age when most people are thinking of retirement? Is it possible for an unhappily married woman to start over, either alone or with someone else?

In the wrong hands, this could easily have been a maudlin, predictable, and heavy-handed work of fiction. Fortunately, Berg hits all the right notes in this crisp, succinct, sometimes profound, and often hilarious novel. She explores her characters’ confusion, insecurities, and fears with compassion, subtlety, and wry humor. As people age, they may develop wrinkles, gain a few pounds, and become a bit more set in their ways. However, most people never lose the desire for love, acceptance, and fulfillment. The Last Time I Saw You is touching but never saccharine. To her credit, Berg does not resort to a clichГ©d resolution for each character’s problems. Instead, she wraps everything up satisfyingly and intelligently, showing respect for us and for the stalwart men and women who dare to display their vulnerabilities. As one woman says at a truth-telling session in which everyone bares his soul: “I’ve finally gained some perspective that lets me laugh about things that used to make me want to tear my hair out.”

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-3-5from 757 readers
PUBLISHER: Random House (April 6, 2010)
REVIEWER: Eleanor Bukowsky
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Elizabeth Berg
EXTRAS: Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Another reunion: 

A Wedding in December by Anita Shreve

And another woman facing middle age:

The Almost Moon by Alice Sebold



May 22, 2010 В· Judi Clark В· No Comments
Tags: , ,  В· Posted in: Contemporary

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