Linda Fallon is in Toronto for a literary festival. She's had modest success as a poet and has come to the conference as a guest author. Imagine her surprise when she sees fellow poet and former lover Thomas Janes in the hotel. It's been twenty-six years since they last met.
During the festival, Linda and Thomas catch up on each other's lives. Both moved on, marrying others and having children. They originally dated as teenagers in high school. After a car accident in which very-drunk Thomas was at the wheel, seriously injured Linda was banned from seeing him again. By chance, the two meet in Africa nine years later. Their passion for each other combined with bad judgment affected their marriages. Now older and wiser, the two are currently single allowing them to explore what could have been if their paths had taken different turns.
The Last Time They Met chronicles the three encounters between Linda and Thomas. Author Anita Shreve tells their tale in reverse order, starting with their Toronto meeting. At age 52, the two reflect on their separate lives, accomplishments and personal tragedies. As twenty-six year-olds, they rekindle their high-school romance in a foreign country. At seventeen, they emerge from opposite backgrounds to become an unlikely couple. Well-paced hints are given regarding the lovers' past relationship, maintaining readers curiosity throughout the story.
The novel gets off to a slow start. The presentation of events could be at fault. By introducing Thomas and Linda in middle age, readers are unaware of their history. Shreve dwells on the Toronto meeting, which distracts a bit from the real issue. Once the former lovers reunite and discuss their past, the story comes together.
The section titled "Twenty-six" provides a vivid description of the Kenyan landscape and what it was like for the protagonists to live there. No doubt, this is based on Shreve's own experience of residing in Africa. Her details lend credibility to the tale and heartfelt emotion for readers.
"Seventeen" details the young lovers' first meeting. Here, Linda recollects heart-wrenching events that were alluded to earlier. The past is explained and all questions regarding Thomas and Linda are answered. In fact, upon completion of the book, you will have the urge to immediately read it again.
To enjoy this novel, you must believe in the couple's pre-established feelings for each other. Traditional timelines allow characters to gradually fall in love. Shreve opens her story with decades of memories between Thomas and Jane of which readers are unaware. Accept that the two have a past which you'll eventually learn about, and the story will be much more enjoyable.
The Last Time They Met is truly a compelling novel. Shreve lets readers into the lives of Thomas and Linda as they examine their past and explore the present. Analyzing the story any further would simply ruin the experience. This is a book you'll remember long after the final page is turned. It's definitely worth your time.