The Last Time I Saw You 

Rebecca Brown is one of the best-kept secrets of short fiction. A San Diego native who now lives in Seattle, she made her literary debut in the mid-'80s with The Evolution of Darkness and recently published The End of Youth. These titles are appropriate bookends for her work, as to read Brown's fiction for literal meaning or autobiography is like trying to follow a musical note from the moment it twangs off an antique slide guitar to its last mechanic warble. Listen closely and you're not always sure when the sound has stopped – or if it does at all. In this fashion, Brown borrows from the weight of the memoir without ever having the responsibilities of factualness, a trick she accomplishes devilishly well in The Last Time I Saw You. The word "I" recurs throughout this strange and beautiful book, but in the end the distinction of whether this is fiction or memoir feels moot, since the book is clearly a work about fracturing. The title piece atomizes an encounter with an old lover down to the second. The more the speaker studies her memories, the more vivid and less certain they become. Did they meet in a café, or was it a bar? Was there really an old alcoholic sucking down shots, or is that an invention? Did the author in fact meet anyone at all, or was she simply at a bar talking to herself? Lydia Davis performed this kind of experiment in her debut collection, Break It Down, and it is to Brown's credit that she performs it repeatedly here without deadening the effect. Each story begins with a surety and then proceeds to smash it to smithereens, leaving us with a thousand tiny shards of brilliance. Occasionally, Brown falters – begins with too little and departs with too many airy flourishes. But mostly, these stories do something thrillingly fresh. They teach us how to read backward; how to understand that what we see on the page is just a beginning, never the end.

The Last Time I Saw You
By Rebecca Brown

(City Lights, 136 pages)

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Orlando Weekly. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Orlando Weekly, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at

Orlando Weekly works for you, and your support is essential.

Our small but mighty local team works tirelessly to bring you high-quality, uncensored news and cultural coverage of Central Florida.

Unlike many newspapers, ours is free – and we'd like to keep it that way, because we believe, now more than ever, everyone deserves access to accurate, independent coverage of their community.

Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing pledge, your support helps keep Orlando’s true free press free.

More by John Freeman


Never miss a beat

Sign Up Now

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.

Read the Digital Print Issue

April 14, 2021

View more issues


© 2021 Orlando Weekly

Website powered by Foundation