The Last Time They Met, by Anita Shreve (Read by Blair Brown)
Career success and recognition at middle age can be a bittersweet blessing as Thomas James and Linda Fallon discover when the accomplished poets find themselves speaking at the same Toronto literary festival. High school sweethearts whose lives have taken different paths since they were 17, they have seen each other only one other time since -- in Kenya when they were 26 and married to others. Now Thomas and Linda are both 52 years old, single and ready to rekindle the flames of first love that each has carried and cherished for so many years. What follows is a hauntingly beautiful tale of love and loss that spirals backward to a shocking conclusion.
If this sounds confusing, it's because Anita Shreve has ingeniously crafted her story to take the main characters from their encounter as adults to their first acquaintance at age 17, passing by their meeting at age 26. Unlike stories told in flash back, though, this one reads as if it were progressing in real time. Shreve fans may recognize Thomas from an earlier work, The Weight of Water, and while it may give a clue about the outcome of this book, it will surely pique the listener's curiosity throughout. Blair Brown gives her usual fine performance as the narrator of this work. Her voice captures the tentativeness of adolescence and assurance of a mature life well-lived.
Anita Shreve's books are consistently satisfying and thought-provoking, but this may be one of her best. Not only are the characters so well developed that they seem like actual acquaintances, but the intricate plot ensnares and holds, leaving the listener open-mouthed at its dramatic finale. It's the kind of book that invites rereading, and while it will enchant romantics, it will fascinate even the most cynical realists.