The Last Time They Met

The Last Time They Met

by Anita Shreve


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A man and a woman sustain a life-long passionate relationship even though they have been together only three times.

At a literary festival in Toronto, Linda Fallon encounters the man who was once at the center of her life: Thomas Janes, the famous poet. Since last seeing him, she has married, given birth, and been widowed. Thomas' appearance rocks Linda, raises questions she had long abandoned, and inspires new dreams.

The Last Time They Met moves backward to explore Linda's life years earlier, at age 26, when an affair with Thomas shattered her life, and at age 17, when they first met.

In this mesmerizing novel, Anita Shreve, author of the international bestseller The Pilot's Wife, examines the resilience of emotion and the extraordinary repercussions a single choice, even a single word, can have over a lifetime.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780316781145
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Publication date: 04/15/2001
Pages: 320
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.88(d)

About the Author

Anita Shreve is the author of the novels The Pilot's Wife, The Weight of Water, Eden Close, Strange Fits of Passion, Where or When, and Resistance. She teaches writing at Amherst College and divides her time between Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

Anita Shreve began writing fiction while working as a high school teacher. Although one of her first published stories, "Past the Island, Drifting," was awarded an O. Henry Prize in 1975, Shreve felt she couldn't make a living as a fiction writer so she became a journalist. She traveled to Africa, and spent three years in Kenya, writing articles that appeared in magazines such as Quest, US, and Newsweek. Back in the United States, she turned to raising her children and writing freelance articles for magazines. Shreve later expanded two of these articles -- both published in the New York Times Magazine -- into the nonfiction books Remaking Motherhood and Women Together, Women Alone. At the same time Shreve also began working on her first novel, Eden Close. With its publication in 1989, she gave up journalism for writing fiction full time, thrilled, as she says, with "the rush of freedom that I could make it up."


New Hampshire; Massachusetts

Date of Birth:



B.A., Tufts University

Read an Excerpt

She had come from the plane and was even now forgetting the ride from the airport. As she stepped from the car, she emerged to an audience of a doorman in uniform and another man in a dark coat moving through the revolving door of the hotel. The man in the dark coat hesitated, taking a moment to open an umbrella that immediately, in one fluid motion, blew itself inside out. He looked abashed and then purposefully amused—for now she was his audience—as he tossed the useless appendage into a bin and moved on.

She wished the doorman wouldn't take her suitcase, and if it hadn't been for the ornate gold leaf of the canopy and the perfectly polished brass of the entryway, she might have told him it wasn't necessary. She hadn't expected the tall columns that rose to a ceiling she couldn't see clearly without squinting, or the rose carpet through those columns that was long enough for a coronation. The doorman wordlessly gave her suitcase—inadequate in this grandeur—to a bellman, as if handing off a secret. She moved past empty groupings of costly furniture to the reception desk.

Linda, who had once minded the commonness of her name, gave her credit card when asked, wrote her signature on a piece of paper, and accepted a pair of keys, one plastic, the other reassuringly real, the metal key for the minibar, for a drink if it came to that. She followed directions to a bank of elevators, noting on a mahogany table a bouquet of hydrangeas and daylilies as tall as a ten-year-old boy. Despite the elegance of the hotel, the music in the elevator was cloying and banal, and she wondered how it was this detail had been overlooked. She followed signs and arrows along a wide, hushed corridor built during an era when space was not a luxury.

The white paneled door of her room was heavy and opened with a soft click. There was a mirrored entryway that seemed to double as a bar, a sitting room with heavily draped windows and French doors veiled with sheers that led to a bedroom larger than her living room at home. The weight of unwanted obligation was, for the moment, replaced with wary acceptance of being pampered. But then she looked at the ivory linen pillows on the massive bed and thought of the waste that it was only herself who would sleep there—she who might have been satisfied with a narrow bed in a narrow room, who no longer thought of beds as places where love or sex was offered or received.

She sat for a moment in her wet raincoat, waiting for the bellman to bring her suitcase to her. She closed her eyes and tried to relax, an activity for which she had no talent. She had never been to a yoga class, never meditated, unable to escape the notion that such strategies constituted a surrender, an admission that she could no longer bear to touch the skin of reality, her old lover. As if she would turn her back against a baffled husband, when once she had been so greedy.

She answered the door to a young bellman, overtipping the man to compensate for her pathetically small suitcase. She was aware of scrutiny on his part, impartial scrutiny simply because she was a woman and not entirely old. She crossed to the windows and drew back the drapes, and even the dim light of a rainy day was a shock to the gloom of the room. There were blurred buildings, the gleam of wet streets, glimpses of gray lake between skyscrapers. Two nights in one hotel room. Perhaps by Sunday morning she would know the number, would not have to ask at the front desk, as she so often had to do. Her confusion, she was convinced (as the desk clerks clearly were not), a product simply of physics: she had too much to think about and too little time in which to think it. She had long ago accepted her need for extravagant amounts of time for contemplation (more, she had observed, than others seemed to need or want). And for years she had let herself believe that this was a product of her profession, her art, when it was much the other way around. The spirit sought and found the work, and discontent began when it could not.

And, of course, it was a con, this art. Which was why she couldn't help but approach a podium, any podium, with a mantle of slight chagrin that she could never quite manage to hide, her shoulders hunched inside her jacket or blouse, her eyes not meeting those in the audience, as if the men and women in front of her might challenge her, accuse her of fraud—which, in the end, only she appeared to understand she was guilty of. There was nothing easier nor more agonizing than writing the long narrative verses that her publisher put in print—easy in that they were simply daydreams written in ink; agonizing the moment she returned to consciousness (the telephone rang, the heat kicked on in the basement) and looked at the words on the blue-lined page and saw, for the first time, the dishonest images, the manipulation and the conniving wordplay, all of which, when it had been a good day, worked well for her. She wrote poetry, she had been told, that was accessible, a fabulous and slippery word that could be used in the service of both scathing criticism and excessive praise, neither of which she thought she deserved. Her greatest wish was to write anonymously, though she no longer mentioned this to her publishers, for they seemed slightly wounded at these mentions, at the apparent ingratitude for the long—and tedious?—investment they had made in her that was finally, after all these years, beginning to pay off. Some of her collections were selling now (and one of them was selling very well indeed) for reasons no one had predicted and no one seemed to understand, the unexpected sales attributable to that vague and unsettling phenomenon called "word of mouth."

She covered the chintz bedspread with her belongings: the olive suitcase (slim and soft for the new stingy overheads); the detachable computer briefcase (the detaching a necessity for the security checks); and her microfiber purse with its eight compartments for her cell phone, notebook, pen, driver's license, credit cards, hand cream, lipstick, and sunglasses. She used the bathroom with her coat still on and then searched for her contact lens case so that she could remove the miraculous plastic irritants from her eyes, the lenses soiled with airplane air and smoke from a concourse bar, a four-hour layover in Dallas ending in capitulation to a plate of nachos and a Diet Coke. And seeping around the edges, she began to feel the relief that hotel rooms always provided: a place where no one could get to her.

She sat again on the enormous bed, two pillows propped behind her. Across from her was a gilded mirror that took in the entire bed, and she could not look into such a mirror without thinking of various speakable and unspeakable acts that had almost certainly been performed in front of that mirror. (She thought of men as being particularly susceptible to mirrors in hotel rooms.) Her speculation led inevitably to consideration of substances that had spilled or fallen onto that very bedspread (how many times? thousands of times?) and the room was immediately filled with stories: a married man who loved his wife but could make love to her but once a month because he was addicted to fantasizing about her in front of hotel mirrors on his frequent business trips, her body the sole object of his sexual imaginings; a man cajoling a colleague into performing one of the speakable acts upon him, enjoying the image of her subservient head bobbing in the mirror over the dresser and then, when he had collapsed into a sitting position, confessing, in a moment that would ultimately cost him his job, that he had herpes (why were her thoughts about men today so hostile?); a woman who was not beautiful, but was dancing naked in front of the mirror, as she would never do at home, might never do again (there, that was better). She took her glasses off so that she could not see across the room. She leaned against the headboard and closed her eyes.

She had nothing to say. She had said it all. She had written all the poems she would ever write. Though something large and subter-ranean had fueled her images, she was a minor poet only. She was, possibly, an overachiever. She would coast tonight, segue early into the Q&A, let the audience dictate the tenor of the event. Mercifully, it would be short. She appreciated literary festivals for precisely that reason: she would be but one of many novelists and poets (more novelists than poets), most of whom were better known than she. She knew she ought to examine the program before she went to the cocktail party on the theory that it sometimes helped to find an acquaintance early on so that one was not left stranded, looking both unpopular and easy prey; but if she glanced at the program, it would pull her too early into the evening, and she resisted this invasion. How protective she had recently grown of herself, as if there were something tender and vulnerable in need of defense.

From the street, twelve floors below, there was a clanging of a large machine. In the corridor there were voices, those of a man and a woman, clearly upset.

It was pure self-indulgence, the writing. She could still remember (an antidote to the chagrin?) the exquisite pleasure, the texture, so early on, of her first penciled letters on their stout lines, the practiced slant of the blue-inked cursive on her first copybook (the lavish F of Frugality, the elegant E of Envy). She collected them now, old copybooks, small repositories of beautiful handwriting. It was art, found art, of that she was convinced. She had framed some of the individual pages, had lined the walls of her study at home with the prints. She supposed the copybooks (mere schoolwork of anonymous women, long dead) were virtually worthless—she had hardly ever paid more than five or ten dollars for one in a secondhand book store—but they pleased her nevertheless. She was convinced that for her the writing was all about the act of writing itself, even though her own penmanship had deteriorated to an appalling level, nearly code.

She stood up from the bed and put her glasses on. She peered into the mirror. Tonight she would wear long earrings of pink Lucite. She would put her lenses back in and use a lipstick that didn't clash with the Lucite, and that would be that. Seen from a certain angle, she might simply disappear.

Copyright © 2001 by Anita Shreve

Reading Group Guide

1. "She peered into the mirror. Tonight she would wear long earrings of pink Lucite. She would put her lenses back in and use a lipstick that didn't clash with the Lucite, and that would be that. Seen from a certain angle, she might simply disappear" (page 8). How would you characterize Linda's self-image at age fifty-two? What events and circumstances in her life have contributed to Linda's sense of self and, in particular, to her impulse toward self-effacement?

2. Speaking about love, Linda says, "I believe it to be the central drama of our lives. For most of us, that is.... It's something extraordinary that happens to ordinary people." Do you agree? To what extent is love the central drama of your life? Of the lives of the people around you?

3. What is the significance of Linda's success as a poet? How does it color Thomas's response to her when they meet again at the writers' festival?

4. Linda and Thomas feel an abiding passion for each other over many years. And yet Linda is also deeply in love with Vincent; her marriage to him was ostensibly happy and of profound importance to her. Do you believe it's possible to be passionately in love with two people at the same time?

5. Discuss Linda's relationship with her children. Do you consider her a good mother? Is there more she could or should have done to help Marcus? Why does Linda feel that every conversation with one's child, even one's adult child, must be a "mix of truth and lies" (page 58)?

6. Why is Thomas ambivalent about living in Kenya? How and why is his response to Africa different from Linda's? From Regina's?

7. Linda and Thomas have very different family backgrounds. Why is the teenage Thomas immediately drawn to Linda when she walks into his high school English class? Why, soon after, is she drawn to him? Is this a case of opposites attracting?

8. Thomas's most celebrated collection of verse is entitled The Magdalene Poems. Why do you think he chose this title?

9. How do you interpret the novel's ending? Identify passages throughout the novel that might have prepared you for what is fully revealed only at the very end of the book.

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Last Time They Met 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 180 reviews.
Cheshire56 More than 1 year ago
You must read "The Weight of Water" before reading this fabulous book. Ms. Shreve once again take you beyong your normal surroundings and brings you characters that you'll remember for a long time to come. The description of Africa and the political unrest and culture was fantastic. I felt as if I'd gotten to take a trip to a tortured country and yet see the beauty amongest the ugly. I'll definitely share this book with family and friends.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this book! Althought the reader might think that the plot is similar to many other love stories - the ending is so unique and amazing that it left me dazed and shaking my head; "wow - I didn't see that one coming"! Well done, Anita!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have been trying to finish this book for two months now. It's confusing as it flashes into the past with no gap so you end up rereading pages just to figure out what is going on. I have read other books by this author and enjoyed them. Disappointing!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I like this author. I had read "all i ever wanted" in the past and gave this a shot. I like where the book went but i was not too impressed. I will give another one of her books a try though.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This novel of love and loss is beautifully written. The plot device is original and very well done. The ending will haunt you.
echoesofstars on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed the author's style. She writes just enough information to keep the reader guessing and wondering what comes next. I also enjoyed how the book traveled backwards through time - a very unique storytelling method that had to be somewhat difficult to accomplish successfully.However, I was not surprised as other people were by the ending of the book. What clued me in was the description of Thomas's Magdelene poems; the description could only fit one character and only one circumstance. This foreshadow easily cast the scenes of the book in a new light - I expected the ending.The Last Time They Met is an excellent read from an excellent writer.
Well-ReadNeck on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
50ish pair of poets reunited; flashback to age 27; flashback to age 17. Well done non-chronological book with surprise ending. I enjoy Anita Shreve books. Wonderful beach reads.
SeriousGrace on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The story, divided into three parts, starts from the perspective of Linda Fallon at 52 years old. Widowed with two adult children Linda is a poet with a complicated past. Her tangled history is confronted when she encounters her former lover, Thomas Janes, at a literary festival. Thomas, also a poet, has gone on to become a legend of sorts after the drowning death of his young daughter drove him into seclusion. What the reader learns in Part I is that Linda and Thomas started a romance in highschool that ended badly. Part II is from Thomas Janes's perspective in Africa 25 years earlier than the festival. Linda, then 27, has married and is working for the Peace Corps when Thomas, also married, encounters her in an African marketplace. The fuzzy details of their teenage romance hinted at in Part I become a little more defined in Part II. The reader discovers a terrible accident allowed overly protective adults to separate the young highschool lovers and effectively dismantle their relationship by putting distance (and silence) between them. Part III is ten years prior to Africa. Thomas and Linda are 17 and in highschool. This final section brings the entire sage full circle. In all honesty my favorite way to read The Last Time They Met is front to back and then again, this time back to front. The tiniest of details become glittering and sharp when exposed by more supporting story.
CatieN on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Linda and Thomas are in their early 50s and haven't seen each other in 25 years but, at one time, were desparately in love with each other. They are both poets now and happen to run into each other again at a gathering of authors. Shreve takes the reader back to their past, when they were together and when they were apart. Then we get to the ending. It is what I call a what-the-hell moment! After my initial shock, I then went back over the book to try and find clues that would have alerted me to what was going to happen at the end. Like it or not, it was an ending that makes the reader think and keeps the story in your mind for a long time.
Ladyeaton2 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Terrific Book and very good writer
lcrouch on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was one of the most well-written books I've ever read. Her foreshadowing was right on point and her words, put together as they were, had a life of their own. An excellent read.
cindyloumn on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Liked it. But slow in parts. Very unexpected ending. VERY different.
karriethelibrarian on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I loved Eden Close and other Shreve books, but when I started this book I seriously thought I couldn't get through it. It was sleepy and slow, nothing happening in the story line. Just another story about frustrated lovers who meet one last time before they go their separate ways. I managed to muddle through it and then got the surprise of my life on the last page. It was so shocking that it turned the entire book on its head and I immediately went back to page 1 and started the whole thing over again. I've never done that before, but I simply had to reread the book and look for the clues that would give me the inkling of what was about to happen. No such clues. Just BAM!My opinion of this book changed immediately and I convinced everyone on the beach to read it so I could lead a book discussion about it. While I sat next to my sun-basking friends, listening to them complain about how boring the books was, I was encouraging them to stay with it all the while chuckling to myself because I knew what was coming. To quote nearly everyone who finished it, "Oh my God! I didn't see that coming!"So now you must read the book without going to the last page and see what everyone was so shocked to learn.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have read other books by this author and enjoyed them. This book was so slow and boring. the characters were uninteresting and painful to read. It took forever to finish.
Maybelles More than 1 year ago
My first Anita Shreve book - she had my at the first word and kept me on the edge of my seat til she killed me with the ending - great book.
Babette-dYveine More than 1 year ago
This is the first book by Ms. Shreve that I have read. It will probably be the only book by Ms. Shreve that I have read. I found it easy to read, and lyrical in places. I also found the plot intriguing. But the ending totally flummoxed me. I have absolutely no idea what happened. And I feel cheated. I wish I could recover the time I wasted reading it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Personally, I liked the book very much. It was a "real life" story - not sugarcoated - and I totally understood how and why the book ended the way it did.
shanbritts More than 1 year ago
Loved parts of the book, the love letters were very romantic and real. But the end of the book threw me for a loop - completely unexpected and still have no idea what the heck happened.
Kathy3KL More than 1 year ago
The chracters were real and presented an intreseting story holding the readers's attendtion even if the book went back and forth in the time. They were raw and vulnerable.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Jumps in time frequently. Slow and confusing at times.
pendoughers More than 1 year ago
It was a very good read. Ilike this author's style. I have read many of her books.h