In an interview with Neil Feineman in Story Quarterly, Alice Adams remarked that she preferred writing short stories to writing novels, which may explain why her short fiction has earned more critical favor than her longer works have. In all, Adams completed six collections of short stories, the last of which, The Last Lovely City, was published shortly before her death in 1999. Adams’s short stories often portray themes of love, loss, and uncertainty, all of which are present in the title story of her final collection.
The title story shares its setting with most of the other twelve stories in the collection. The last lovely city is San Francisco, and for the main character in ‘‘The Last Lovely City,’’ it represents his past, good and bad, and everything that has passed by him. Adams lived most of her adult life in San Francisco, so she experienced the city in a variety of ways. It is fitting that ‘‘The Last Lovely City’’ and most of the other stories in the collection are set in the city Adams loved best.
‘‘The Last Lovely City’’ is about a widower named Benito Zamora. He is a successful doctor whose wife, Elizabeth, died five months ago; he is struggling with feelings of loneliness and inadequacy. His elderly mother lives in Mexico, near a city where Benito operates two free clinics. As the story opens, Benito has been invited to a lunch party by a young woman named Carla, whom he met a month earlier at a dinner. Although he barely remembers her and wonders why she is interested in him, he agrees to accompany her. As they drive to the party in Stinson Beach (near San Francisco, where Benito lives), they make pleasant conversation.
When they arrive at the party, the hostess, Posey Pendergast, greets them. She is delighted to meet Benito, having heard much about him. She and Benito talk briefly about her house, a lavish home designed by Posey’s son, Patrick. Benito recalls walking past it with Elizabeth and thinking how opulent it looked.
As Posey introduces Carla and Benito to other guests, Benito runs into Dolores, a past girlfriend. Their romance was not particularly loving; in fact, Dolores once told him that she did not like men, but that she was in love with a woman named Posey Pendergast. Benito now realizes why Posey’s name sounded familiar. He also remembers a time when Dolores suggested that it would be exciting for him to pay her after they made love. He refused.
Wanting to get away from Dolores at the party, Benito begins looking for Carla. When he is unable to locate her, he decides to go out onto the deck alone. As he surveys the city, he thinks of Elizabeth. He looks back into the party and sees another old acquaintance, Herman Tolliver. Herman is a lawyer who, many years ago, convinced Benito to enter into a business deal with him to buy run-down hotels. Benito agreed and made a lot of money in the process. He remained a silent...
(The entire section is 771 words.)