THIS TIME LAST YEAR by Douglas Hobbie


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 An ambitious, moving exploration of desire and loss, by a subtle, persuasive writer. Hobbie (Boomfell, 1991; The Day, 1993) once again probes the imaginations and libidos of a group of urbane, accomplished characters, most of them middle-aged, all of them nursing amatory regrets. The story focuses on Henry, a successful writer still grief-stricken by the death of a daughter (Hobbie also wrote Being Brett, 1996, a memoir of his own daughter's death from cancer), who has taken up residence in his sister-in-law Mary's summer house in Vermont. Mary is unwilling to go there, because her scientist husband Fitz dropped dead at the house the previous year. Meanwhile, Henry's wife Elizabeth, worn down by his inability to move beyond his profound grief, is spending the summer touring England with a friendand is being pursued by a self-assured acquaintance convinced that she secretly wants to have an affair with him. Matters become more complicated when Helen, a book-editor friend of Fitz's, shows up in Vermont looking for himnot knowing, of course, that Fitz has died. A plot-within-a-plot develops when Henry discovers in Fitz's computer a frank, disturbing journal the dead man had been keeping to chronicle his increasingly complex relations with Helen and Mary. And Henry, unsurprisingly, finds himself also being drawn to Helen. Hobbie deftly balances the voices here, nicely catching the varying meditations of these bright, reflective figures on desire, the conflicting needs for intimacy and freedom, the fear of aging and of death, and the yearning of the middle-aged for the exuberance of youthful love. A shocking death by accident dramatically alters the lives of the survivors, and Hobbie offers a terse but elegiac conclusion, picking up the lives of the remaining figures a year after the loss. Sad, precise meditations by a writer displaying remarkable precision and control.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-8050-5492-8
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Henry Holt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 1998


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