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Richard Bausch: The Last Good Time

Edward Cakes is an elderly, retired violinist. His only son was killed in Korea and his wife died soon afterwards. He never remarried. He now lives, alone, in a small apartment building. His neighbours are a student, who lives upstairs and two noisy nurses who live opposite. He visits his friend, Arthur, who used to lived upstairs but is now in a retirement home. Cakes – that’s what everyone calls him – is fairly conventional and conservative while Arthur has a somewhat racier approach to life.

However, when the student suddenly runs off, Cakes’ life changes. The next day, Mary Virginia turns up, looking for the student. She is, she says, pregnant with the student’s baby, has come up from Virginia and has nowhere to stay. Cakes agrees to lodge her in his apartment. Most of the novel revolves around Cakes’ erratic relationship with Mary Virginia. She comes and goes. She has clearly lied about her relationship with the student (they are actually married) and her background. In the meantime, Cakes relays the story to Arthur who makes it more salacious than it is. He has an uneasy relationship with the nurses and also with Ida, the elderly, lonely lady who moves in upstairs.

Bausch’s novel is about relationships and how they can be altered out of the blue. It is about old age and memory. Above all, it is about loneliness and about how, ultimately, we are all islands struggling to find connections which sometimes work and, sadly, sometimes do not. At the end, Cakes hooks up with Ida upstairs and moves on, without Arthur and without Mary Virginia. But, as Bausch points out, it doesn’t always work out.

Publishing history

First published 1984 by Doubleday