”The Last Lovely City” is about a widower named Benito Zamora. He is a successful doctor whose wife, Elizabeth, died five months ago; he is struggling with feelings of loneliness and inadequacy. His elderly mother lives in Mexico, near a city where Benito operates two free clinics.
As the story opens, Benito has been invited to a lunch party by a young woman named Carla, whom he met a month earlier at a dinner. Although he barely remembers her and wonders why she is interested in him, he agrees to accompany her. As they drive to the party in Stinson Beach (near San Francisco, where Benito lives), they make pleasant conversation.
When they arrive at the party, the hostess, Posey Pendergast, greets them. She is delighted to meet Benito, having heard much about him. She and Benito talk briefly about her house, a lavish home designed by Posey’s son, Patrick. Benito recalls walking past it with Elizabeth and thinking how opulent it looked.
As Posey introduces Carla and Benito to other guests, Benito runs into Dolores, a past girlfriend. Their romance was not particularly loving; in fact, Dolores once told him that she did not like men, but that she was in love with a woman named Posey Pendergast. Benito now realizes why Posey’s name sounded familiar. He also remembers a time when Dolores suggested that it would be exciting for him to pay her after they made love. He refused.
Wanting to get away from Dolores at the party, Benito begins looking for Carla. When he is unable to locate her, he decides to go out onto the deck alone. As he surveys the city, he thinks of Elizabeth. He looks back into the party and sees another old acquaintance, Herman Tolliver. Herman is a lawyer who, many years ago, convinced Benito to enter into a business deal with him to buy run-down hotels. Benito agreed and made a lot of money in the process. He remained a silent partner in the business, intentionally staying as ignorant as possible about the hotels, because he knew they were being used for prostitution. Benito’s initial meeting with Herman occurred at about the time he met Elizabeth, and his memories suggest that he was looking for a way to make more money so he would be deserving of her. Ashamed of his past with Herman, Benito eases his conscience by reminding himself that without the money he made from the hotels, he would not be able to run the free clinics in Mexico for people who cannot afford medical care.
Benito continues to look in at the party, where Herman is now talking to Carla. Benito’s thoughts drift, and he considers how lonely he has been since the death of his wife. He realizes that his memory has become selective, because he remembers only the wonderful moments and forgets the hard times and problems.
Carla joins Benito on the deck. When he asks how she knows Herman, she reminds him that she is a reporter who knows everyone. Dolores comes onto the deck, and Carla goes back inside. Benito excuses himself from Dolores to walk on the beach. Overwhelmed by the ghosts of his past, he is glad to be alone.
As Benito is thinking about his life in San Francisco, Carla runs up and joins him. He imagines that she is flirting with him and allows his fantasies to overtake his thoughts. He considers a future with her, and vows to be honest with her. They talk about Herman, and Benito confesses his past business relationship with him. He also tells Carla that Dolores is an ex-girlfriend. None of this seems to shock Carla.
As Benito becomes more convinced that he is really connecting with Carla, she mentions her fiance, Patrick. This is done in such a casual manner that it seems that Carla has no idea that Benito thinks she is interested in him. She says that Patrick was unable to accompany her to the party, so she invited Benito because she thought he might know some people there and be able to tell her about them. Benito’s hopes are dashed, and he tells her that he is getting ready to move back to Mexico. He plans to oversee his clinics and take care of his ailing mother. Carla suggests that they get together so she can interview him before he leaves.
Benito and Carla decide to leave the party. Carla chatters, but Benito is no longer paying attention. He thinks about his plans to leave San Francisco permanently and live out his life in Mexico.
Thomas E. Barden – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 14, Alice Adams, Published by Gale Cengage Learning.