The Last Lovely City: Stories [NOOK Book]

Overview

“Sophisticated, charming, often nostalgic, and so artfully written that half the time you don’t know that you are reading on of the best writers around.”  ­--The Boston Globe
 
In her final collection, Alice Adams ranges from San Francisco to a North Carolina college town, to a run-down resort in Mexico. And  a grouping of four stories at the end follows a ...
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The Last Lovely City: Stories

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Overview

“Sophisticated, charming, often nostalgic, and so artfully written that half the time you don’t know that you are reading on of the best writers around.”  ­--The Boston Globe
 
In her final collection, Alice Adams ranges from San Francisco to a North Carolina college town, to a run-down resort in Mexico. And  a grouping of four stories at the end follows a divorced psychiatrist in an arc that constitutes a short novel.
 
Included are: “His Women,”  “Great Sex,”  “Old Love Affairs,” and  “The Drinking Club,”  “Patients, “The Wrong Mexico, “ and “Earthquake Damage.”
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Editorial Reviews

Susan Bolotin
It is easy to imagine that Adams...spends a lot of time listening, watching. It shows in her work....It's [hard] to find people to care about in The Last Lovely City. And perhaps that is Adams' point: when we search for love, we are not always lovable.
The New York Times Book Review
Susan Bolotin
It is easy to imagine that Adams...spends a lot of time listening, watching. It shows in her work....It's [hard] to find people to care about in The Last Lovely City. And perhaps that is Adams' point: when we search for love, we are not always lovable. -- The New York Times Book Review
Kirkus Reviews
A collection of 13 stories offers Adams's (Medicine Men) usual blend of intimacy and the good life but also heavily plays the aging card, as story after story returns to the discontents of the middle years and beyond. The title piece is a case in point: aged Benito, a retired physician who used his killing in San Francisco real estate to fund clinics in his native Mexico, is still mourning the recent death of his wife-until shaken from his funk by an invitation to a party, extended by a much younger woman. Although the party is full of the dirty old rich, with some of whom Benito shares a less-than-savory past, he finds hope for the future in the possibility that his date seems to like him. That is, before she reveals that she's affianced to the son of their hostess. Women of a certain age fare little better: in "Old Love Affairs," for instance, a woman "almost old but lively," having gone through several husbands already, has one man kissing her feet while she tries to attract the attention of another. In "The Islands," a woman rebounding from the death of her Berkeley bookseller husband goes to Hawaii with a man interested in her, but does so only a few days after putting her (and her husband's) dear old cat Pink to sleep, so that the trip, tinged with sadness, is ill-fated-once her present company's true feelings about felines becomes known. The most sustained effort here, a series of four linked stories, looks at the tangled emotions of a psychiatrist, his alcoholic pianist wife, and his lover (another psychiatrist) as over time they pair, part, and realign, finding a kind of wisdom but no great joy in the ultimate configuration. With melancholy seeping into them,these plans for renewal fail more often than they succeed, in a pattern artful but distressingly familiar by the last page.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307798152
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 6/8/2011
  • Series: Vintage Contemporaries
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 256
  • File size: 2 MB

Meet the Author

Alice Adams was born in Fredericksburg, Virginia and raised in North Carolina, and graduated from Radcliffe College. She was the recipient of an Award in Literature from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters and received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation, and the O. Henry Lifetime Achievement Award.  She was the author of five collections of short stories and ten novels, among them Listening to Billie, Superior Women, Second Chances, and A Southern Exposure. She lived in San Francisco until her death in 1999.
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Read an Excerpt

Every evening, despairingly, Mary Alexander, a former actress, puts out tin bowls of food for Linda, her cat, who is lost: stolen, starving somewhere, locked in a strange garage--maybe dead. In any case, gone. And every morning, on the deck of her small house in Larkspur, California, Mary examines the bowls and sees that nothing is gone, and her heart seems to shrink within her, her blood to chill. Out there among all the pots of luxuriant roses, bright geraniums, and climbing, profusely flowering bougainvillea, Mary looks blindly at all that color, that bloom, and at her pretty house, in the rare fine August sunlight, and she mourns for Linda; she is inhabited, permeated with loss. She takes in the plates and washes them off; she makes and eats her own breakfast, and then goes out for a walk. She spends the day in an effort to pull herself together, as she looks and looks, and calls and calls for Linda. And then at night she puts out the food again, and she waits, and hopes. For lovely Linda, who is as beautiful and as shy as a little fox.

This is very neurotic, Mary lectures herself, rather in the voice of her very helpful former shrink, a gentle, kindly, and most courteous man from Louisiana, who spoke in those attractive accents, and whose sternest chiding was, "That's just plain neurotic." And he would smile, acknowledging that they both already knew she was neurotic; that very likely most people are, including himself.

For comfort, Mary sometimes thinks of a man she considers the least neurotic among her friends: Bill, a biologist. Internationally known, he goes to conferences all over; he does a lot of work in Africa on AIDS. Bill is absolutely devoted to Alison, his wife, herself a distinguished watercolorist. Bill is also intensely attached to Henry, their cat. Once, in fact (this is the memory from which Mary takes comfort), Henry was reported missing by their housesitter; Bill and Alison were on a rare vacation in Paris. Many transatlantic phone calls ensued; Bill was almost on the plane to come back from Paris, to walk every block of their San Francisco neighborhood--when, of course, Henry strolled into their house, insouciant and dirty. But Bill, this internationally famous scientist, had been poised to cut short a trip with his much-loved wife, to come home from Paris to look for Henry, his cat. All of which now makes Mary feel a little less crazy, less "neurotic," but no less sad.

Mary's own life, viewed by any friend or acquaintance, would be judged comparatively rich, and in many ways successful. Early days in New York included occasional Broadway parts, some off-Broadway, and mostly good reviews. Too little money, usually, and too many (but generally good) love affairs. Then the move to San Francisco, the Actors Workshop, and ACT, plus some TV ad work, boring but well paid. More love affairs, some of which became rewarding friendships. Even now, at what she herself considers an advanced age, there is a man with whom she sometimes sleeps (Mary much dislikes the phrase to have sex, but they do), a man of whom she is most extremely fond (which surely beats being in love, has been Mary's conclusion). They would see each other more, except that he has a very mean, vindictive lawyer wife; it is not all perfect, but then, what is? In any case, Mary's life does not fit the stereotype of the lonely old woman whose only companion is her cat.

Mary was never beautiful; as a very young woman she was too thin, almost gaunt, with a long thin nose, a wide and sensual mouth. But she was both intelligent and talented, capable of projecting passion, irony, and humor, qualities that she could be said to contain within herself. Her friends, including fellow actors, generally liked her, and several men loved her extremely.

Aging is easier, somewhat, for a not-beautiful actress, Mary has thought; critics are less apt to point out that you are not as young as formerly. But this must be true for all women, not only those in her own narcissistic profession. You do not suddenly observe that heads are not turning, if few or any ever did. These days Mary could have more TV ad work than she does, if she would accept more happy-grandmother shots. The problem is that her capacity for tolerating boredom has diminished, she finds. She can no longer endure certain endless hours before hot cameras--as she can no longer listen raptly at dull dinner parties. She cannot escape into steamy trash fiction as she once did, in dressing rooms, awaiting calls. (She has lately been rereading Colette, and has recently discovered Carl Hiassen, who makes her laugh aloud.) The move from San Francisco up to Larkspur constituted a sort of retirement; she lives mostly on residuals, a little stock. She believes that she lives fairly well, with Linda.

Still, certain things have happened, inevitably, to her face and body that she does not like, and cannot much change. Mostly she objects to dry skin, and increasing fatigue.

Mary has--or she used to have, with Linda--certain small rituals. Rituals of love and intimacy, you might say. One was that whenever Mary went upstairs, Linda would race ahead of her, and then stop and lie across a step, in Mary's way, so that Mary had to stop. And to pet Linda, to scratch her beautiful yellow stomach as Linda stretched along the step. They always did this, and now, as Mary walks up the stairs alone and unimpeded, she misses Linda as acutely as she has ever missed a lover, and she thinks, in somewhat the same way as she used to think, She's gone!

So that now she thinks, I must be truly mad. All this about a pretty little cat? I carry on as though it were a major love affair?

Linda now has been gone for five days, and nights. Mary continues her nightly routine of putting food out on the deck and bringing in the untouched dishes in the morning. Washing them out.

Getting through the days.

And then one night, as she lies upstairs in bed, alone, she hears from down on her deck the rattle of tin plates--her plates, with Linda's food. Linda! In an instant she grabs up a robe, shoves her feet into slippers; she runs downstairs and flicks off the burglar alarm. She rushes to the French doors that lead to the deck. Where she sees, to her horror, three raccoons. Two large, one smaller, all with their round black staring unfrightened eyes and their horrible bent clawed feet. At times Mary has argued that raccoons are cute, nice little visitors at picnics. But tonight she sees that they are hideous intruders, feral and dangerous, fearsome.

She is afraid that if she opens the door they will run in, searching for more food (they have eaten all of Linda's), and so she only bangs on the glass, afraid too that it will break, and she will be defenseless. But the raccoons, having eaten, now leave, loping, ungainly on their short legs and ugly feet, back across the deck.

Very slowly Mary goes upstairs, and gets back into bed.

Raccoons attack cats; they sometimes hurt or kill them. Everyone says that.

Mary gets up, and in her bathroom she takes a tranquilizer, then gets into bed again.

She lies there, coping as best she can with the probable fact of Linda's death (later she does not understand how she did this). Linda must be dead, killed by horrendously ugly, murderous raccoons; if not those, some others, equally hideous. Mary only hopes that it was quick, as one hopes for air-crash victims. Poor crazy fearful Linda could well have died of fright before she was hurt, Mary thinks.

She tries to sleep, and at last she does, and she wakes in the morning very calm, and much, much more sad.

And although she has more or less accepted the fact of Linda's death, she continues in a minor way to look for her, and she still puts out the food.

"What you need is another cat," the few friends in whom she has confided begin to say, and in theory Mary agrees; she does need another cat.


One day (it is now September, Linda gone for a week) the sun comes out earlier than usual, burning through fog and leaving only a few white mists that hang above the tall dark trees, above the town of Larkspur. Mount Tamalpais is sharp and clear, less distant, more inviting. And Mary's mail comes earlier than usual, just before lunch. In it there is a check that she has been owed and has needed for some time, from her agent in L.A. These are all good signs, she thinks; Mary has certain unvoiceable, eccentric superstitions. Perhaps this should be the day when she goes to the animal shelter and finds a new beautiful cat.

She cannot resist the further superstitious thought that maybe getting a new cat will bring Linda magically home to her, rather in the way that couples with a fertility problem at last adopt, and then become pregnant.

In the animal shelter, which is encouragingly clean, well kept up, and staffed by very nice and cheerful young women, Mary looks through the rows of cages, all containing cats with one or another sort of appeal, any one of whom she would no doubt in time learn to love. But no cat there is as beautiful as Linda is (or was); there is no one whom she instantly, totally loves. In the last cage, though (of course the last), there is a thin, lithe, graceful gray cat named Fiona--to Mary an appealing name; years ago she had a friend, an English actress, Fiona Shaw (just as she once had a friend named Linda, years back). A small typed notice states that Fiona has just been spayed; she is fine, but not quite ready for adoption--a few days more. Mary watches Fiona for a little while; she is an exceptionally pretty little cat, shy and graceful. (And if Linda should come back, they might get along?)

On the way home Mary sees some new neighbors, a nice young couple, both architects, who have heard and been kind and sympathetic over Linda.

"I saw this very pretty cat in the shelter," Mary tells them. "A small gray one. She's named Fiona."

Almost in unison they say, "But Linda might come--"

"No," Mary tells them, very firmly. "The raccoons got her. They must have."

At which the young man frowns. "I've seen a couple around. Mean-looking little bastards."

And the woman, "I think they're sweet. And I could have sworn I heard a cat outside last night."

"Well, you'll have to come for tea very soon and meet Fiona," Mary tells them.

Every return to her house, which now does not contain Linda, is sad for Mary, and as she walks in, the raccoons now return to her mind, unbidden; she sees them vividly again, their hideous claws and their small mean shining eyes. Firmly she forces herself instead to imagine pretty Fiona as she walks through her house to the deck, and down the steps to her garden.

Where she is just in time to see a flash of brown fur, a plumey tail--Linda!--who tears across the grass and into Mary's basement, which contains a clutter of broken, discarded furniture, empty boxes, old luggage. Where Linda instantly hides herself.

The basement entrance is wide, with no door; there is no way to block it off, to prevent a bolting Linda--except for Mary herself to stand across it, or to sit down, as she does, and to stretch her legs across the opening.

But was that really Linda, that flash of fur? Mary begins to doubt her own vision. Could it, God forbid, have been a raccoon?


From the Hardcover edition.
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Table of Contents

His Women 3
The Haunted Beach 17
Great Sex 36
Raccoons 46
Old Love Affairs 56
A Very Nice Dog 73
The Visit 81
The Last Lovely City 88
The Islands 105
The Drinking Club 127
Patients 141
The Wrong Mexico 160
Earthquake Damage 179
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First Chapter

His Women


"I think we should try it again. You move back in," says Meredith, in her lovely, low, dishonest Southern voice.

Carter asks, "But -- Adam?"

"I'm not seeing him anymore." Her large face, not pretty but memorable, braves his look of disbelief. Her big, deep-brown eyes are set just too close; her shapely mouth is a little too full, and greedy. Big, tall, dark, sexy Meredith, who is still by law his wife. She adds, "I do see him around the campus, I mean, but we're just friends now."

That's what you said before, Carter does not say, but that unspoken sentence hangs there in the empty space between them. She knows it as well as he does.

They are sitting in the garden behind her house -- their house, actually, joint ownership being one of their central problems, as Carter sees it. In any case, now in early summer, in Chapel Hill, the garden is lovely. The roses over which Carter has labored in seasons past -- pruning, spraying, and carefully, scientifically feeding -- are in fragrant, delicately full bloom: great bursts of red and flame, yellow and pink and white. The beds are untidy now, neglected. Adam, who never actually moved in (Carter thinks), is not a gardener, and Meredith has grown careless.

She says, with a pretty laugh, "We're not getting younger. Isn't it time we did something mature, like making our marriage work?"

"Since we can't afford a divorce." He, too, laughs, but since what he says is true, no joke, it falls flat.

And Meredith chooses to ignore it; they are not to talk about money, not this time. "You know I've always loved you," she says, her eyes larger and a warmer brown than ever.

Perhaps in a way she has, thinks Carter. Meredith loves everyone; it is a part of her charm. Why not him, too? Carter and Adam and all her many friends and students (Meredith teaches in the music department at the university), and most cats and dogs and birds.

She adds, almost whispering, sexily, "And I think you love me, too. We belong together."

"I'll have to think about it," Carter tells her, somewhat stiffly.

The brown eyes narrow, just a little. "How about Chase? You still see her?"

"Well, sort of." He does not say "as friends," since this is not true, though Carter has understood that the presence of Chase in his life has raised his stature -- his value, so to speak -- and he wishes he could say that they are still "close."

But four years of military school, at The Citadel, left Carter a stickler for the literal truth, along with giving him his ramrod posture and a few other unhelpful hangups -- according to the shrink he drives over to Durham to see, twice a week. Dr. Chen, a diminutive Chinese of mandarin manners and a posture almost as stiff in its way as Carter's own. ("Oh, great," was Chase's comment on hearing this description. "You must think you're back in some Oriental Citadel.") In any case, he is unable to lie now to Meredith, who says, with a small and satisfied laugh, "So we're both free. It's fated, you see?"

--------

A long time ago, before Meredith and long before Chase, Carter was married to Isabel, who was small and fair and thin and rich, truly beautiful and chronically unfaithful. In those days, Carter was a graduate student at the university, in business administration, which these days he teaches. They lived, back then, he and Isabel, in a fairly modest rented house out on Franklin Street, somewhat crowded with Isabel's valuable inherited antiques; the effect was grander than that of any other graduate students', or even young professors', homes. As Isabel was grander, more elegant than other wives, in her big hats and long skirts and very high heels, with her fancy hors d'oeuvres and her collection of forties big-band tapes, to which she loved to dance. After dinner, at parties at their house, as others cleared off the table, Isabel would turn up the music and lower the lights in the living room. "Come on," she would say. "Let's all dance."

Sometimes there were arguments later:

"I feel rather foolish saying this, but I don't exactly like the way you dance with Walter."

"Whatever do you mean? Walter's a marvelous dancer." But she laughed unpleasantly, her wide, thin, dark-red mouth showing small, perfect teeth; she knew exactly what he meant.

What do you do if your wife persists in dancing like that in your presence? And if she even tells you, on a Sunday, that she thinks she will drive to the beach with Sam, since you have so many papers to grade?

She promises they won't be late, and kisses Carter good-bye very tenderly. But they are late, very late. Lovely Isabel, who comes into the house by herself and is not only late but a little drunk, as Carter himself is by then, having had considerable bourbon for dinner, with some peanuts for nourishment.

Nothing that he learned at The Citadel had prepared Carter for any of this.

Standing in the doorway, Isabel thrusts her body into a dancer's pose, one thin hip pushed forward and her chin, too, stuck out--a sort of mime of defiance. She says, "Well, what can I say? I know I'm late, and we drank too much."

"Obviously."

"But so have you, from the look of things."

"I guess."

"Well, let's have another drink together. What the hell. We always have fun drinking, don't we, darling Carter?"

"I guess."

It was true. Often, drinking, they had hours of long, wonderful, excited conversations, impossible to recall the following day. As was the case this time, the night of Isabel's Sunday at the beach with Sam.

Drinking was what they did best together; making love was not. This was something they never discussed, although back then, in the early seventies, people did talk about it quite a lot, and many people seemed to do it all the time. But part of their problem, sexually, had to do with drink itself, not surprisingly. A few belts of bourbon or a couple of Sunday-lunch martinis made Isabel aggressively amorous, full of tricks and wiles and somewhat startling perverse persuasions. But Carter, although his mind was aroused and his imagination inflamed, often found himself incapacitated. Out of it, turned off. This did not always happen, but it happened far too often.

Sometimes, though, there were long, luxurious Sunday couplings, perhaps with some breakfast champagne or some dope; Isabel was extremely fond of an early-morning joint. Then it could be as great as any of Carter's boyhood imaginings of sex.

But much more often, as Isabel made all the passionate gestures in her considerable repertoire, Carter would have to murmur, "Sorry, dear," to her ear. Nuzzling, kissing her neck. "Sorry I'm such a poop."

And so it went the night she came home from Sam, from the beach. They had some drinks, and they talked. "Sam's actually kind of a jerk," said Isabel. "And you know, we didn't actually do anything. So let's go to bed. Come, kiss me and say I'm forgiven, show me I'm forgiven." But he couldn't show her, and at last it was she who had to forgive.

Another, somewhat lesser problem was that Isabel really did not like Chapel Hill. "It's awfully pretty," she admitted, "and we do get an occasional good concert, or even an art show. But, otherwise, what a terrifically overrated town! And the faculty wives, now really. I miss my friends."

Therefore Carter was pleased, he was very pleased, when Isabel began to speak with some warmth of this new friend, Meredith. "She's big and fat, in fact she's built like a cow, and she's very Southern, but she has a pretty voice and she works in the music department, she teaches there, and she seems to have a sense of humor. You won't mind if I ask her over?"

Meeting Meredith, and gradually spending some time with her, Carter at first thought she was a good scout, like someone's sister. Like many big women (Isabel's description had been unkind), she had a pleasant disposition and lovely skin. Nice long brown hair, and her eyes, if just too closely placed, were the clear, warm brown of Southern brooks. With Carter, her new friend's husband, she was flirty in a friendly, pleasant way -- the way of Southern women, a way he was used to. She was like his mother's friends, and his cousins, and the nice girls from Ashley Hall whom he used to take to dances at The Citadel.

Meredith became the family friend. She was often invited to dinner parties, or sometimes just for supper by herself. She and Isabel always seemed to have a lot to talk about. Concerts in New York, composers and musicians, not to mention a lot of local gossip.

When they were alone, Carter gathered, they talked about Meredith's boyfriends, of which she seemed to have a large and steady supply. "She's this certain type of Southern belle," was Isabel's opinion. "Not threateningly attractive, but sexy and basically comfy. She makes men feel good, with those big adoring cow eyes."

Did Isabel confide in Meredith? Carter suspected that she did, and later he found out for certain from Meredith that she had. About her own affairs. Her boyfriends.


Although he had every reason to know that she was unhappy, Carter was devastated by Isabel's departure. Against all reason, miserably, he felt that his life was demolished. Irrationally, instead of remembering a bitter, complaining Isabel ("I can't stand this tacky town a minute longer") or an Isabel with whom things did not work out well in bed ("Well, Jesus Christ, is that what you learned at The Citadel?"), he recalled only her beauty. Her clothes, and her scents. Her long blond hair.

He was quite surprised, at first, when Meredith began to call a lot with messages of sympathy, when she seemed to take his side. "You poor guy, you certainly didn't deserve this," was one of the things she said at the time. Told that he was finding it hard to eat -- "I don't know, everything I try tastes awful" -- she began to arrive every day or so, at mealtimes, with delicately flavored chicken and oven-fresh Sally Lunn, tomatoes from her garden, and cookies, lots and lots of homemade cookies. Then she took to inviting him to her house for dinner -- often.

As he left her house, at night, Carter would always kiss Meredith, in a friendly way, but somehow, imperceptibly, the kisses and their accompanying embraces became more prolonged. Also, Carter found that this good-night moment was something he looked forward to. Until the night when Meredith whispered to him, "You really don't have to go home, you know. You could stay with me." More kissing, and then, "Please stay. I want you, my darling Carter."

Sex with Meredith was sweet and pleasant and friendly, and if it lacked the wild rush that he had sometimes felt with Isabel, at least when he failed her she was nice about it. Sweet and comforting. Unlike angry Isabel.


They married as soon as his divorce was final, and together they bought the bargain house, on a hill outside town, and they set about remodeling: shingling, making a garden, making a kitchen and a bedroom with wonderful views. Carter, like everyone else in the high-flying eighties, had made some money on the market, and he put all this into the house. The house became very beautiful; they loved it, and in that house Carter and Meredith thrived. Or so he thought.

He thought so until the day she came to him in anguished tears and told him, "This terrible thing. I've fallen in love with Adam." Adam, a lean young musician, a cellist, who had been to the house for dinner a couple of times. Unprepossessing, Carter would have said.

Carter felt, at first, a virile rage. Bloodily murderous fantasies obsessed his waking hours; at night he could barely sleep. He was almost unrecognizable to himself, this furiously, righteously impassioned man. With Meredith he was icily, enragedly cold. And then, one day, Meredith came to him and with more tears she told him, "It's over, I'll never see him again. Or if I do we'll just be friends."

After that followed a brief and intense and, to Carter, slightly unreal period of, well, fucking: the fury with which they went at each other could not be called "making love." Meredith was the first to taper off; she responded less and less actively, although as always she was pleasant, nice. But Carter finally asked her what was wrong, and she admitted, through more tears, "It's Adam. I'm seeing him again. I mean, we're in love again."

This time, Carter reacted not with rage but with a sort of defeated grief. He felt terribly old and battered. Cuckold. The ugly, old-fashioned word resounded, echoing through his brain. He thought, I am the sort of man to whom women are unfaithful.

When he moved out, away from Meredith and into an apartment, and Chase Landau fell in love with him (quite rapidly, it seemed), Carter assumed that she must be crazy. It even seemed a little nuts for her to ask him for dinner soon after they met, introducing themselves in the elevator. Chase lived in his building, but her apartment, which contained her studio, was about twice the size of Carter's and much nicer, with balconies and views. "I liked your face," she later explained. "I always go for those narrow, cold, mean eyes." Laughing, making it a joke.

Chase was a tall, thin, red-haired woman, not Southern but from New York, and somewhat abrasive in manner. A painter of considerable talent and reputation (no wonder Meredith was impressed). Carter himself was impressed at finding inquiries from Who's Who lying around, especially because she never mentioned it. In his field, only the really major players made it.

Her paintings were huge, dark, and violent abstractions, incomprehensible. Discomforting. How could anyone buy these things and live with them? As they sat having drinks that first night, working at light conversation, Carter felt the paintings as enormous, hostile presences.

Chase was almost as tall as Carter, close to six feet, and thin, but heavy-breasted, which may have accounted for her bad posture; she tended to slouch, and later she admitted, "When I was very young I didn't like my body at all. So conspicuous." Carter liked her body, very much. Her eyes were intense and serious, always.

As they were finishing dinner she said to him, "Your shoulders are wonderful. I mean the angle of them. This," and she reached with strong hands to show him.

He found himself aroused by that touch, wanting to turn and grasp her. To kiss. But not doing so. Later on, he did kiss her good night, but very chastely.

Used to living with women, with Isabel and then with Meredith, Carter began to wonder what to do by himself at night. He had never been much of a reader, and most television bored him. In the small town that Chapel Hill still was in many ways, you would think (Carter thought) that people knowing of the separation would call and ask him over, but so far no one had. He wished he had more friends; he should have been warmer, kinder. Closer to people. He felt very old, and alone. (He wondered, Are my eyes mean? Am I mean?)

He called Chase and asked her out to dinner. "I know it's terribly short notice, but are you busy tonight?"

"No, in fact I'd love to go out tonight. I'm glad you called." His heart leaped up at those mild words.

During that dinner, Chase talked quite a lot about the art world: her New York gallery, the one in L.A., the local art department. He listened, grateful for the entertainment she provided, but he really wasn't paying much attention. He was thinking of later on: would she, possibly, so soon --

She would not. At the door, she bid him a dear good night after a rather perfunctory social kiss. She thanked him for the dinner. She had talked too much, she feared; she tended to do that with new people, she told him, with a small, not quite apologetic, laugh.


From a friend in the law school, Carter got the name of a lawyer, a woman, with whom he spent an uncomfortable, discouraging, and expensive half hour. What it came to was that in order to recover his share in the house, Carter would have to force Meredith to sell it, unless she could buy him out. None of this was final, of course; it was just the lawyer's temporary take on things. Still, it was deeply depressing to Carter.

Coming home, in the downstairs lobby of his building he ran into Chase, who was carrying a sack of groceries, which of course he offered to take.

"Only if you'll come and have supper with me." She flashed him a challenging smile. "I must have been thinking of you. I know I bought too much."

That night it was he who talked a lot. She only interrupted from time to time with small but sharp-edged questions. "If you didn't want to go to The Citadel, why didn't you speak up?" And, "Do you think you trusted Meredith at first because she's not as good-looking as Isabel?" The sort of questions that he usually hated -- that he hated from Dr. Chen -- but not so with Chase; her dark, intelligent eyes were kind and alert. He almost forgot his wish to make love to her.

But then he remembered, and all that desire returned. He told her, "It's all I can do not to touch you. You're most terrifically attractive to me."

By way of answer, she smiled and leaned to meet him in a kiss. For a long time, then, like adolescents, they sat there kissing on her sofa, until she whispered, "Come on, let's go to bed. This is silly."

Carter had not expected their progress to be quite so rapid. He hardly knew her; did he really want this? But not long after that, they were indeed in bed, both naked. He caressed her soft, heavy breasts.

Pausing, sitting up to reach somewhere, Chase said, "You'll have to wear this. I'm sorry."

"Oh, Lord. I haven't done that since I was twenty. And look, I'm safe. I never played around."

"I know, but Meredith did. A lot."

"I don't think I can --"

"Here, I'll help you."

"Damn, I'm losing it; I knew I would."

Strictly speaking, technically, that night was not a great success. Still, literally they had gone to bed together, and Carter's feeling was that this was not a woman who fell into bed very easily (unlike -- he had to think this -- either Isabel or Meredith).


The next day he had another appointment with the lawyer, who had talked with Meredith's lawyer, who had said that things looked worse.

"I don't know why I'm so drawn to you," Chase told him, "but I really am." She laughed. "That's probably not a good sign. For you, I mean. The men I've really liked best were close to certifiable. But you're not crazy, are you?"

"Not so far as I know."

Chase did not seem crazy to him. She was hardworking, very intelligent. Her two sons, with whom she got along well, were off in school, and she was surrounded by warm and admiring friends; her phone rang all the time with invitations, friendly voices. But, as Carter put it to himself, she did sometimes seem a little much. A little more than he had bargained for. Or more than he was up to right now.

Their sexual life, despite her continued insistence on -- hated phrase -- "safe sex," was sometimes great, then not. Chase complained, though nicely, that out of bed he was not affectionate. "I could use more plain, unsexy touching," she said, and he tried to comply, though demonstrativeness was not at all in his nature.


Carter's broker called with bad news, quite a lot of bad news. Carter, like most people in the market, had taken a beating.


Even Chase would admit that her work habits were a little strange. She liked to get up late and spend a couple of hours drinking coffee, phoning, maybe writing a letter or two. She would then go into her studio (a room to which Carter was never admitted). At times she would emerge to eat a piece of fruit, heat some soup, or, less frequently, go out for a short walk along the graveled paths of old Chapel Hill. Back in her studio, immersed in her work, quite often she would forget about dinner until ten at night, or eleven; she did not forget dinner dates, but she sometimes phoned to break or postpone them.

Carter argued, "But if you started earlier in the morning you could finish -- "

"I know. I know it's impractical, but it's the way I seem to have to work. I'm sorry. It's not something I can change."

Along with feeling some annoyance, Carter was moved and a little alarmed by her intensity, her high purpose.

Sometimes, in bed, Chase cried out quick, impassioned words of love to him -- which Carter did not answer in kind, nor did he take what she said at those moments too seriously. In fact, as he was later forced to recognize, he gave rather little thought to Chase's deeper feelings. "You didn't want to deal with what I felt," she accused him, and he had to admit that that was entirely correct.


"Adam and I aren't getting along at all," said Meredith to Carter, over the phone. "I don't know -- he's a lot more neurotic than I thought he was."

"Oh, that's too bad," was Carter's response. Not saying, Now you find this out, after wrecking our marriage and costing God knows what in lawyers' bills.

"He's very dependent," Meredith said. "I don't really like that. I guess I was spoiled by you."

"I don't know why she's telling me this stuff," Carter said to Chase when she called; the old instinct of compulsive honesty had forced him to repeat the conversation with Meredith.

"I think she wants you back," Chase told him. "You wait and see."

"You think so? Really?"

"Jesus, Carter, you sound sort of pleased. If she did, would you even consider it?"

"Well, I don't know." As always, the literal truth; he did not know.

"God, Carter, she slept with everyone. Everyone in town knows that. Why do you think I insisted on safe sex?"

She was furiously excited, almost hysterical, Carter thought. She was out of control. A little frightening -- but he only said, "Oh, come on, now."

"How tacky can you get!" Chase cried out. And then she said, "Look, don't call me, I'll call you, okay?" And hung up.

True to her word, she did call him -- once, very late at night. "I've had some wine," she said. "I shouldn't be calling, I mean, otherwise I wouldn't. But I just wanted you to know a couple of things. One, I was really in love with you. God, if I needed further proof that I'm seriously deranged. I always fall in love with the most unavailable man anywhere around. Emotionally. Mean eyes, good shoulders. Shit, why did I call? Good night!" And she hung up, loud and clear. A ridiculous and quite unnecessary conversation, in Carter's view.


Now, in the afternoon sunshine, Carter looks about at all the roses and the scented white wisteria -- at their lovely house and at unlovely, untrustworthy, but deeply familiar Meredith. He finds that, despite himself, he is thinking of Chase. Of her passion (those cries of love) and her scornful rage and of her final avowals (but she was drunk). Is it now too late? Suppose he went to her and said that he was through with Meredith, would she take him back? Would she ask him to come and live with her? (So far, she has never suggested such a thing.) Could they marry?

No is the answer that Carter gives to all these questions. No, Chase would probably not take him back, and no, there is no way he could afford to marry her. Even if he were sure that he wanted to. Chase is crazy -- she must be crazy. Look at those paintings. There in the warm sunlight he suddenly shivers, as though haunted.

"Yes," he says to Meredith, although she hasn't spoken for a while. "Yes, okay. All right."

Copyright © 1999 by Alice Adams

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 16, 2014

    Stories

    Sequins of Starlight at "think all" res 6,and any story at "contest" res 2.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 3, 2001

    LOVE MOTIVATES MANY ACCORDING TO ALICE ADAMS

    Love makes the world and the middle aged characters in Alice Adams's fifth short story collection go round. In the incisive prose style that we've come to expect from the acutely perceptive Ms. Adams, The Last Lovely City is a series of vignettes, oftimes snapshots, of those beyond the blush of youth who are disillusioned by or disappointed in love but will nonetheless give amor another go-around. In settings as diverse as San Francisco and a down-at-the-heels Mexican beach resort those who should know better reach for the heart's brass ring. 'His Women,' the opening piece introduces Carter, a sometimes befuddled and impotent academician. Estranged from his first wife who couldn't 'stand this tacky town a minute longer,' he finds solace with a family friend, Meredith, whom he later marries. After their union falters, the couple meet again to speak of reconciliation. Mutely indecisive, Carter listens to Meredith as he mentally revisits the other women in his life. In 'The Haunted Beach' we find an art dealer, Penelope, and a judge, now lovers, visiting a resort once frequented by Penelope and her former en amorata. An ill choice for a new beginning, to say the least. Another couple are drawn together by 'the greatest sex,' while a fading, neurotic actress focuses longing on her beloved cat. Sometimes self-centered, often psychologically dependent, the characters created by Ms. Adams are vividly limned yet elusive, leaving the reader wishing to know more yet feeling that all has been told. Among the strongest of the tales is the title piece, The Last Lovely City, in which a widower, Dr. Benito Zamora, recalls the free clinics he has established in Mexico. Childless, he and his lovely wife, his 'white soul' were happy, but now, he wonders. 'Is no one able to imagine the daily lack, the loss with which he lives?' Part Two, beginning with 'The Drinking Club' consists of four interdependent stories, almost resulting in a novella. Julian, a California psychiatrist, is married to Karen, an alcoholic concert pianist. He is involved in an affair with Lila, another psychiatrist. They reflect the passivity of Ms. Adams' other characters: 'I do wonder what we'll do next, don't you?' Julian remarks to Lila. 'But even as Lila smiles at his phrasing, at the implication of their being watchers rather than participants.......She too wonders what will be next, for them. However, she only murmurs (somewhat falsely), `Do we have to do anything?'' Again, lives not fully lived but placed on lay-away. Ennui, even in the deft hands of Ms. Adams, tends to pale. One may come away from The Last Lovely City admiring the author's narrative gifts while, at the same time, wanting to light a fire under her characters.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 19, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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