When Last We Met by Ashland Price
(Zebra, $5.99, PG) ISBN 0-821-75866-7
*
It's been a while since I had such a strong reaction to a book. I'm sorry to say that the reaction was revulsion. When Last We Met absolutely did not work for me, in any way, shape, or form. And if reading one person's honest comments, particularly negative ones, offends you then please do both of us a favor and hit the Back button on your browser right now.

Seventeen-year-old Silvie Revelle has run away from the convent where she has grown up and taken up residence in a whorehouse. Seems she's been feeling these "urges" lately, and she's decided to see what relations with a man might be like. Lying about her age to the madam in order to get a job, Sylvie prepares to entertain her first customer. Halfway through, she decides she can't go through with it because this would surely "ruin" her according to the teachings of the sisters ("naïve" morphed into "stupid" right about here) and she begs her customer to stop.

Sylvie is in luck, because the guy happens to be Dr. Peter Woodward, a youngish psychiatrist who is horrified to think he might have actually deflowered a mere child. He demands that the madam send Sylvie back to wherever she came from, and then departs to wallow in despair over being dumped by his fiancée.

The Mother Superior of the convent decides to seek the help of a psychiatrist in treating a disobedient orphan. Sure enough, Peter just happens to be a former charge of the good sisters, and he willingly agrees to help the young lady with her problems. Peter and Sylvie are both stunned when it turns out she's the young lady in question. Faster than you can say ""Lolita"" Sylvie decides she kinda likes having the attention of a good-looking man who gives her the tingles, and she quickly blackmails Peter into keeping her on as a patient. ("Stupid" just made the leap to "teenage tramp.")

Peter and Lol - er - Sylvie have subsequent conversations in his office. Many, many conversations. Mostly about sex and venereal disease, because Sylvie wants to know all about those, much to Peter's discomfort. He doesn't react very forcibly, and even enjoys the titillation, so in my mind he deserved to squirm. Sylvie decides she wants to cook for the good doctor, and Peter decides that helping her develop a womanly skill is worth the temptation to his libido. Sylvie spies on Peter and hangs around Peter's flat and admires Peter and plans how to make him notice her. Peter tries valiantly to keep his distance.

Does this all sound like a high-schooler with a crush on a favorite teacher? Me too. Sylvie is all of seventeen and has barely ever talked to a man, let alone had any romantic experience whatsoever. Her actions were that of a self-indulgent child. Peter tries to be noble while lusting from a distance. (His initial horror at Sylvie's young age is soon forgotten.) The plot line alone was enough to make me want to put the book down, but there were other elements that were just as jarring.

How about a Russian in Paris using American slang to an Englishman? In the 1890s? When Peter's friend Alexander Berkov wants to know if Peter has impregnated his fiancée and casually asks if he's "knocked her up", I burst out laughing.

And then there was the much more unpleasant aspect of Peter's "hospital treatments" for his female patients. Seems one of his treatment methods is helping them to find sexual release by masturbation. (He's a devotee of Freud) But since Peter is a full-service psychiatrist, he lets his own fingers do the walking, if you know what I mean. When he finally introduces Sylvie to the joy of climax, he "forced himself to pull away from her and go wash his hands, as he often had need to do at the hospital".

Ugh. My hero? Not likely.

Oh, there is a subplot about repressed memories on Sylvie's part (just exactly how did her mother die?) and a water phobia of Peter's, but none of it was earth-shaking, and the payoff didn't match the buildup. A potentially interesting plot thread, in which Sylvie and Peter have the same dreams of knowing each other in the past, is introduced and then dropped. Meanwhile, Sylvie tempts Peter and Peter decides to court Sylvie and at last get her into his bed.

This is no romance. This is a story about an immature teenager who thinks having sex will make her an adult and a man who thinks with his zipper.

I hereby close the book on When Last We Met, with a sigh of relief.

--Cathy Sova


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