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The Atlantic Monthly | April 2001
New & Noteworthy

The Last Time They Met
by Anita Shreve
Little, Brown, 320 pages, $24.95

The Last Time They Met omantic regret is Anita Shreve's subject in this instantly captivating novel. Longing for a life not lived, a love they lost, haunts Thomas Janes, a celebrated poet when we first meet him, and Linda Fallon, a lesser poet who has suffered less. They meet again, unexpectedly, at a poetry reading in Toronto after an interval of twenty-four years. Clues to their past surface in their conversation. Names appear—Regina, Peter, Donny T.—and lines like "It was the most selfish moment of my life, Thomas. I can only think I must have wanted it over. All of it" plant discoveries to come. The novel works backward through another unexpected meeting, in Kenya, years earlier, and finally to the moment when Linda walked into Thomas's class in a Massachusetts high school in a borrowed too-tight sweater and miniskirt. Fiction writers could go to school on Shreve's command of scene: the poetry conclave, an embassy party in Kenya, a confession to a Catholic priest. These scenes are or contain what the novelist Douglas Bauer, in a provocative new book, The Stuff of Fiction: Advice on Craft (University of Michigan Press), calls high events: "If we imagine ... this movement of narrative as the regular pulsing line on a heart monitor, then we know the line is altered from time to time by some emphatic occurrence that startles its steadiness and sends it, the narrative heartbeat, shooting up—shooting high. High event." In airport fiction events—acts of violence, sex—"have no long-lasting emotional consequences," Bauer writes. In fine fiction like The Last Time They Met events torture memory with possibility and loss.

—Jack Beatty

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Copyright © 2001 by The Atlantic Monthly Group. All rights reserved.
The Atlantic Monthly; April 2001; New & Noteworthy - 01.04; Volume 287, No. 4; page 104-108.