The Last Lovely City: Stories

Alice Adams, Author
Alice Adams, Author Alfred A. Knopf $22 (208p) ISBN 978-0-679-45441-0
Reviewed on: 01/04/1999
Release date: 01/01/1999
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Accomplished novelist (Medicine Men) and short storyteller Adams (After You've Gone) exhibits in her latest collection a cast of proudly aging characters whose lives are linked more or less by their attachment to San Francisco. Love has played havoc on these successful professionals and performers, either in or outside of marriage, but they wouldn't dream of giving up. ""I think we should try again,"" remarks the chronically wayward wife in the opening story, ""His Women,"" a remark that could serve as the collection's leitmotiv. Carter, the story's bland academic protagonist, recognizes vaguely that he is ""the sort of man to whom women are unfaithful,"" yet he finds himself agreeing to let the same trouble back into his life. Wandering in and out of sexually satisfying love affairs, the characters are soon baffled to see their relationships peter out. In ""The Haunted Beach,"" a woman ends up at the same beach resort in Mexico that she frequented with her former husband, hoping, fully consciously, that the memories there will ignite her new love. The best writing occurs in the title narrative, an elegiac musing on lost love by the ""sadhearted widower,"" Dr. Benito Zamora, who meets a woman who was his lover 40 years before: ""Her voice was like scented oil... light and insidious and finally dirty, making stains."" The collection loses some momentum with the rather corny tales of devoted pet owners, then regains it in the last four of these 13 stories, a seamlessly interrelated series involving an adulterous pair of psychiatrists and their troubled spouses. Adams's relentlessly present tense prose can become somewhat mannered; yet the reader is always edified by the startlingly perspicacious or willfully self-deluded observations of her characters, who will find love again at all cost. (Feb.)
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