When Linda Fallon, the main character in Anita Shreve’s The Last Time They Met, arrives at a literary festival to read her poems, the last person she thinks she will meet there is Thomas Janes, a world-famous poet, her lover of twenty years earlier in Africa, and even before that, her high school sweetheart. Readers may recognize Thomas Janes from Shreve’s novel, The Weight of Water (1997) in which he loses his child in a sailing accident, and ultimately his wife to divorce. These tragedies haunt Janes’ s life, as does the car accident that first separated him from the love of his life, Linda, during their senior year of high school.
Shreve gracefully moves her characters from their present day encounter at the literary festival to their previous meeting in Africa, where Janes resides with his wife, a United Nations health worker and Linda works in the Peace Corps. Although both are married, the two begin a passionate affair, only to be parted once again by events beyond their control.
In a third move, Shreve returns her characters to their meeting in high school, where they fall in love and plan a future together. The mystery of the book quickly unfolds in the final pages, sending the reader reeling back to the beginning, looking for subtle clues and nuances. The novel leaves readers to consider their own paths not taken. Anyone who has wondered what it would be like to meet again the lost love of one’s life will find this a surprising and heart-wrenching story.