As in his earlier works (including the National Book Award nominee The Diagnosis,), MIT professor Alan Lightman explores the intersection of science and poetry, memory and reality in his new novel Reunion. At base, this book is a love story a story about pivotal, remembered love of a passionate and largely unrequited sort.
We all tend to edit our memories to suit our visions of who we are, of what we've experienced and endured to become our present-day selves. Protagonist Charles is no different. He is a divorced, 52-year-old college professor at a middling liberal arts college who has lost the spark and vigor that characterized his early career as a poet. He lives in the house left behind by his ex-wife, and he doesn't get on well with his daughter.
And so, when Charles receives an invitation to attend his 30-year college reunion, he decides to go. His interactions with his former classmates the remnants of former affection, the patience mingled with disinterest ring humorous and true. The vaguely bored Charles strolls around the perimeter of the reunion, and it is then that his senior year unspools before him.
The 52-year-old Charles reunites with his 22-year-old self, and time becomes elastic as he relives his 1960s love affair with mysterious ballerina Juliana. The beautiful, troubled dancer drew Charles in and pushed him away in keeping with her changing moods and unsteady self-image and Charles idealized her to an extent that threatens to induce eye-rolling. As Charles watches his younger, na•ve self, he begins to confront the bits of his cherished memory that are perhaps somewhat tarnished. There was a betrayal and a painful decision that changed the way he felt about their relationship and about love. Charles also allows himself to realize and admit he was irrevocably changed and affected by this period of his life; it affected his poetry, his ability to be intimate with the lovers that came afterward and his relationship with his daughter.
This sense of closure and realization makes Reunion satisfying. Its examination of how we hoard memories and edit time is compelling. The story at the heart of Reunion is not a new one, however, and readers may find themselves wishing Lightman had delved more into the stories of some of the other characters rather than focusing on the familiar story of the callow, obsessive young romantic wounded by the worldly, selfish object of his or her affections. Linda M. Castellitto is not going to attend her college reunion.