I wanted to break through all of that. I wanted to tell and hear and you wanted to tell me too and so you did. I was the only one who heard, the only one you told and though you tried to forget I didn’t. I can’t. I won’t for both. A secret is a thing that we hold dear. This secret is the thing that holds us, dearie, still.

So says the narrator in “Aspects of the Novel,” one of the internal monologues cum short stories in Rebecca Brown’s new collection, The Last Time I Saw You, published by City Lights. Brown’s narrative voices hold on to the secrets of their pasts, holding onto their memories long after relationships have disintegrated, even when the accuracy or even truthfullness of those memories is questionable at best. The Last Time I Saw You is an innovative and captivating read. I highly recommend it.

Last Time I Saw You

I bought the book in Philadelphia earlier this month. I’ve been looking for a recent lesbian-authored text to teach in my next Lesbian and Gay Lit course. I have to admit that, although I had seen Rebecca Brown’s name before, I hadn’t read any of her works. The Last Time I Saw You is Brown’s 11th book. From what I’ve read online, The Gifts of the Body, a 1995 novels about a home-care worker who assists people with AIDS, is her most famous work to date. Reading The Last Time definitely makes me want to check out her previous work.

In each of the 12 stories, we observe the narrative voice’s viewpoint, often involving lost love. All of the stories are great, but a few stand out to me. The first one, “The Trenches,” is an engaging monologue about the innocence, if that’s even the right word, of childhood and its loss as one grows up. Indeed, the question of whether “innocence” is even the right way to describe the narrator’s childhood is the kind of questioning that Brown revels in throughout this collection. For her, identity, memory, and even love are unstable qualities, intangibles that can only be grasped at and never fully held or possessed.