cover image The Last Night I Spent with You

The Last Night I Spent with You

Mayra Montero. HarperCollins, $19.95 (128pp) ISBN 978-0-06-095290-7

This sexually explicit novella, the fifth fiction by Cuban-born author Montero, is structured contrapuntally. In alternating first-person narratives, the short narrative's first story line concerns a middle-aged couple, long married, who take a Caribbean cruise after the wedding of their 22-year-old daughter. Fernando, the husband, is a 50-year-old accountant with a passion for music--principally old-fashioned boleros. He is also an aficionado of ""gringo magazines"" like National Geographic, from which he culls disturbing reports of violent animal (and sometimes human) sexual encounters. Although three years younger than his wife, he has previously engaged in only a few, unsatisfactory, infidelities. On the cruise, however, he becomes infatuated with a white-haired woman in her late 40s, who calls herself Julieta and claims to be a recently widowed harpist. Meanwhile, Fernando's wife, Celia, turns to sex with an anonymous boatman in an attempt to exorcise the haunting memories of a passionate but brutal and guilt-ridden affair that caused her, 14 years ago, to neglect her dying father and her daughter. A second, less fully developed story--marred in its development by a few lapses in narrative logic--is set forth in brief letters to a mysterious Angela from a lover called Abel, meshing finally with the stories of Fernando's family. The references to song lyrics throughout will not resonate with those to whom ""bolero"" means only Ravel's wordless composition. But knowledge of that notoriously sensual music is enough to appreciate the long, breathless sentences that depict and simulate the characters' actual and imaginary couplings. Montero's deadpan humor sharpens her account of the passions of her middle-aged protagonists, and she adroitly establishes Fernando and Celia's separate viewpoints in her flexible, hypnotic prose. 4-city author tour. (June) FYI: Montero's novel was a finalist for Spain's Sonrisa Prize for erotic literary fiction.