Short Take: “The Last Conversation,” Paul Tremblay

Pros: Absolutely riveting
Rating: 5 out of 5

In Paul Tremblay’s novella The Last Conversation (Forward collection), the unnamed protagonist wakes up in the dark. He hurts. He has no memory of who he might be. A voice comes on over a speaker–that of Dr. Anne Kuhn. She says that he must remain in isolation due to his compromised immune system, and that she will help him to remember, help him to redevelop his muscles and his faculties. Day after day she walks him through mental and physical exercises, refusing to tell him who he is, who he is to her, and what’s going on outside–other than the fact that they’re the only two present in the Facility, and that there’s a pandemic going on outside. She seems devoted to returning him to himself. One day, it’ll be time for him to emerge.

This is haunting and immersive. It’s told in the second person, and it’s really easy to get caught up in the main character’s point of view. He’s learning so much, and recovering so well, but what from? There are some questions Anne won’t answer. There are times when she changes subjects. She’s clearly hiding something–but what? The unveiling of things is engrossing, and made me shiver. Obviously I can’t go into much more detail on a short novella; it suffices to say that I was riveted through the end!

“This is how it starts.”

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