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The Last Time I Saw You    by Elizabeth Berg order for
Last Time I Saw You
by Elizabeth Berg
Order:  USA  Can
Random House, 2010 (2010)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

I had never been to a high school reunion before reading Elizabeth Berg's The Last Time I Saw You; but now I feel like I have, and that I recognized more than one old classmate within the pages of her novel. But what attracted me first to the book was its gorgeous cover, featuring a champagne bottle hanging from a hot air balloon.

Berg examines the feelings of a variety of individuals, from the cheerleaders and jocks to the nerds and the marginalised, all preparing to attend their fortieth - and last - high school reunion.
There's insecure, divorced Dorothy Shauman, whose daughter Hilly is about to marry a doctor. Dorothy, who hopes for another chance with Pete Decker ('the most handsome boy in the school'), always needs to be in control and so usually misses the good things around her.

There's dedicated veterinarian Lester Hessenpfeffer, ridiculed in school for his name and nerdiness. He's still mourning the love of his life, who died in a car accident early in her pregnancy. It was Lester's receptionist Jeanine who thought he should attend his high school reunion - 'she wanted him to find a woman' and pushed him hard to go.

Self-reliant Mary Alice Mayhew was also despised by her classmates and is content with herself and living a good life. She loves her work at a day-care center. Mary Alice's best friend, her elderly neighbor Einer Olson, insists on attending the reunion as her bodyguard. Einer warns her, 'Blink a couple of times and you'll be an old fart like me, with memories your only entertainment ... make some memories before it's too late!'

There's Pete Decker, once admired by all the girls, and now desperately trying to rescue the marriage that he himself sabotaged, and to redeem relationships with his disapproving children. Pete ends up in hospital before the reunion, but checks himself out and attends anyway.

And there's Candy Armstrong, the high school 'queen of everything', who's always trying - and failing - to please her husband. She learns something just before the reunion that looms much larger than their unsatisfactory relationship. Candy brings her dog Esther with her.

By the time we get to the event itself, we want to be there and watch these individuals interact, see how their new selves readjust old perspectives. Lester spends time with Mary Alice and Candy, Pete sits with Mary Alice and Einer and enjoys their company. A Table o' Truth party game (where people must answer posed questions honestly) opens Dorothy's eyes to many classmates she had avoided seeing before.

Berg shows us that those once on the fringes can come into their own, that people can grow to see each other differently, and that even the shallow don't have to stay that way. I highly recommend you read The Last Time I Saw You; it's filled with warmth and wisdom, and with characters who walk off the pages and into our hearts.

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