The Last Time I Saw You: A Novel

April 25, 2010

Plot summary (with spoilers): The Last Time I Saw You by Elizabeth Berg tells the story of a handful of 58-year-olds who are preparing to attend their 40th high school reunion. Each one is attending for a different reason, which we learn about as the point-of-view shifts from character to character. We discover what the characters were like in high school, as well as what they’re like now, which helps us understand their motivations a bit better.

For instance, Dorothy Shauman, now divorced, is attending for one reason and one reason only: Pete Decker. Pete was the handsome, popular quarterback that all the girls liked, and Dorothy never forgot about him. They hooked up one time during the class trip to Washington, D.C. (where Pete recalls getting to second base), but he never called after that. Dorothy has had trouble with men her whole life, and believes that Pete is the answer she’s looking for.

Mary Alice Mayhew was painfully shy and mousy in high school, and was the sort of girl that made an easy target for all the bullies. She was treated horribly, as her sister Sarah Jane reminds her, so why on earth would she want to go back and see those people? Mary Alice doesn’t view her high school years as being that bad. She wants to show that she has turned out just fine. Plus, she wouldn’t mind running into Pete Decker as well.

Rounding out the main cast of characters are Candy Sullivan, the queen bee from high school that every boy dreamed about dating and every girl looked upon with great envy; Lester Hessenpfeffer, a good-natured boy in high school who never dated because he was too much of a brain and who turned into a very compassionate vet; and Pete himself, who is still a good-looking charmer, but whose life is in disarray as his wife Nora is leaving him because he cheated on her.

At the reunion, the main characters interact with each other and with some minor characters, go through a few typical reunion-ish episodes, and emerge with different ideas of themselves.

Liked:

  • I liked the idea of a story about the angst involved in a high school reunion. My own 20-year reunion is coming up very soon, so I could certainly identify with some of the emotions these characters were going through.
  • Prior to attending the reunion, Dorothy already knows about other characters’ current situations because she had checked them out on Facebook and similar websites. This was another realistic touch from the author that I appreciated. There have been many Saturday nights where I’ve pushed my mac memory to the brink because I’ve got a bunch of tabs open while furiously searching for random people from my past. It’s kind of weird that I know these tidbits about folks I haven’t talked to in almost 20 years, but that’s the way the world works now, I guess.
  • I think many of the observations Berg makes about reunions and why people go or don’t go were spot on. For instance, some people go just to try to reconnect with the one that got away. Some want to flaunt all that they’ve become. And some merely want to relive the glory days when they were the “it” boys and girls on campus.

Disliked:

  • I didn’t really connect with any of the characters — but that’s probably because they were all 20 years older than me. I knew going in that this story was about a 40th reunion, so I thought I was prepared for the generation gap. But no… it was something I couldn’t totally overcome. Their problems were not my problems, so I didn’t identify with them.
  • I was expecting a lot more out of the actual reunion. That was supposed to be the climax in the novel; all the rising action led to that point. But the things that happened were so… typical. Pete getting punched in the face? I kind of expected that. A circle of truth or whatever? That was pretty lame. I don’t know, maybe it’s the age thing again. Maybe that’s exactly what 58-year-olds would do at a reunion.
  • I didn’t like how the point-of-view was shared among so many different characters. This kind of diluted the effect, and made me feel as though I didn’t get to know any of them thoroughly enough. Candy, Mary Alice, and Lester were interesting; Pete and Dorothy were not. If the author had tightened the focus and spent more time on the first three I named, I might have enjoyed this more.

Rating:

I didn’t really go into The Last Time I Saw You by Elizabeth Berg with any specific expectations about the story itself, but I did have a preconceived notion about what a high school reunion book should be about in general. It’s certainly not the author’s fault that her vision was different than mine. Nevertheless, I couldn’t help but want more out of these characters and the event, so I give this book just 3 stars out of 5.

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