Jenny has devoted her life to her husband, the naturalist Wilkie Walker. She is as rare a creature as the endangered species he works to preserve. But this year, as winter comes on, Wilkie seems distant and depressed. In desperation Jenny persuades him to visit Key West, but the sun and tropical scenery do nothing to cheer him up. As he grows even stranger, Jenny becomes involved with some exotic local characters - including Gerry, an ex-beatnik poet, and Lee, the dramatically attractive manager of a women-only guest house.
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The Last Resort finds Alison Lurie in top, trenchant form following a 10-year hiatus from fiction. "Without sex and death," the author wrote in Don't Tell the Grown-Ups, "humans may become as angels." Suffice it to say that the term angelic suits none of her newest cast, all of whom come up against life's realities during one Key West winter. Lurie's singular ensemble is spearheaded by the much younger wife of famed naturalist and writer Wilkie Walker, who is convinced that the world is "going to hell in a nonbiodegradable plastic handbasket." When the loving, supportive Jenny suggests they repair from New England to Florida, she hopes that he'll at last be able to finish his book and, more importantly, that his erratic behavior will come to an end. Of course, she has no goal for herself, since she's spent all her adult life as custodian to the aging author and can envision no other existence. Fortunately, a chance encounter with the owner of the successful women's guesthouse will eventually suggest a far more satisfying one.
For the irascible Wilkie, the trip turns out to be a blessing in disguise. Convinced that he's no longer in ecological vogue and certain that he's suffering from cancer, he's finally free to plan a tragic swimming accident. Alas, each of his attempts is foiled: once he can't get rid of a hanger-on, and another time someone else has the audacity to kill himself, thereby stealing his limelight. What's worse, the man was suffering from AIDS, and Wilkie certainly doesn't want that sort of information to sully his own obit. The Last Resort is a hilarious--and merciless--look at social and sexual desire and literary reputation. Jenny is well aware, for example, "that to refuse to look at a writer's work is always a deadly insult," whether the writer is her husband or an ex-beatnik poet. As one character reasonably remarks, "You don't have to be intellectually brilliant to be a famous American poet. It's a handicap, sometimes. Innocent egotism, good looks, romantic sensibility, a thrilling speaking voice, and a nice little lyric gift, that's what makes it with the reviewers and the public."
Lurie is always keen to prick any human vanity or fashionable ism--and does so exquisitely. In addition to its infinitely satisfying ironies and indelible characters, The Last Resort, though far from Arcadia, offers up a serious call for us to seize the "bright full present" while we can.About the Author:
Alison Lurie is the author of many highly praised novels, including The War Between the Tates, The Truth About Lorin Jones (Prix Femina Estranger, 1989), and Foreign Affairs (1985 Pulitzer Prize for fiction). She currently divides her time between Ithaca, Key West, and London.
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