‘The Last Married Man’ by Alice Adams

The Last Married Man by Alice Adams, 1978

The magic trick:

Showing us a narrator who is learning more about the story she tells as she tells it to us

We’re doing a week of Alice Adams stories. She won lots of awards in the last quarter of the 20th century, but I’m not sure many people read her now. I could be wrong. Regardless, it’s a good week to discover/revisit her work.

In many ways the prototypical Alice Adams story, “The Last Married Man” looks at romantic love, friendship, and gender dynamics through forthright storytelling touched by humor.

Here, the structure is notable for its parallel lines and eventual plot intersection. Our narrator tells a personal dating history centered on two men. She characterizes the affairs in a simple way at first but that shifts as the story goes. She seems to be learning more and more about what they meant to her as she tells the story. Crucially, she finds a friend in a young employee later in the story, and that friend shares similar stories. Together, they’re able to find a new context for these relationships, and, soon, the men recede in importance. It’s interesting to see a story’s meanings change in real-time for the narrator.

And that’s quite a trick on Adams’s part.

The selection:

My affair with Henry did not improve my life (having gone to school in England, he had become a passionate Anglophile, and had anglicized his Middle Eastern name)—although while it lasted I felt myself irradiated, even enobled with the grandeur of our passion. And I really believed that we would divorce his wife, as he said he would, and that we would return to his country and together would work for the underground.


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