The Last Time I Saw You by Elizabeth Berg – Book Review

I don’t know if it can be called a subgenre, but there’s certainly a kind of scenario that often appears in fiction: a bunch of people with disparate personalities and lives, who share some kind of common past, reunite for an occasion that ends up changing their lives, with revelations and much soul-searching along the way. This book was about a group of former classmates who attend their fortieth high school reunion.

The five main characters are a varied bunch whose paths in life took different turns after highschool, and who come to the reunion looking for different things. There’s loud and brash Dorothy who wants to hook up with Peter, the best looking guy in her class, who in turn wants a chance to win back his estranged wife. Lester is a contentedly single veterinarian and a former nerd; Mary Alice is another loner type who hasn’t had the best time at school but wants to see her former classmates anyway. Candy is a class beauty with a jerk of a husband, who’s been handed a fatal diagnosis by her doctor, and wishes to change her life.

The book was enjoyable to read, but to be honest it wasn’t as deep and perceptive as its author probably thought it was. The characters are distinct and fairly well-drawn, there are some good lines and observations on life, relationships, regrets and getting old, but I’ve seen the same themes done much better and with much more depth and subtlety elsewhere.

There’s also a segment during the reunion where the characters decide to play the game of truth and talk about deep stuff, like “what scared you about coming to the reunion”, “did your life turn out to be anything like you thought it would” etc. The whole setup and the answers felt rather phony and forced and way too neat, probably because the book hasn’t really established an atmosphere of intimacy where this kind of soul-baring before virtual strangers would feel realistic.

Also, apart from a few instances, the book is too eager to avoid any real dark stuff or unpleasantness; for example it keeps on hinting that Mary Alice was mistreated by her classmates but I don’t think it ever went into specifics of what exactly did they do to her. There’s also a resolution for two of the characters that happens offscreen in an abrupt manner, just when I thought that the book might take a refreshingly different path instead. My overall feeling from the book was, I want to be deep and meaningful and real but don’t worry! nothing too upsetting or confronting or different here! I can’t say this inspired me to read more books by Elizabeth Berg.

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