The Reunion by Alan Lightman

Alan Lightman is an adjunct Professor of Humanities, Creative Writing, and Physics at MIT. Of his novel Reunion the New York Times Book Review said: “Elegant…spare, economical and charged with meaning.”

I’m going to be honest: I am a sucker for this kind of book – lost love, longing, a trip to the past. So I would have thought that Reunion would be right up my alley because it has all the ingredients necessary to punch me in the gut.

Charles is professor at a small college. He’s divorced and the father of a grown daughter. We meet him as he is about to return to his Alma Mater for his 30th reunion. It is here that Charles is catapulted back into his past to relive his first love-affair, with a ballerina named Juliana. His past doesn’t rise up to meet him in the flesh. Instead, while gazing into a model of the college campus as it once was, Charles has a sort of complicated hallucination where he relives the whole affair and struggles to reconcile the memory with the reality of it.

On some levels the book really worked for me.

Young people explode with their discovery of the world and the newness of life…What young people don’t realize is that so much is happening for the last time as well. The world is both opening and closing at once.

I understood this. I felt tremendous empathy for Charles as he came to terms with the knowledge that he couldn’t go back and recapture those first, fleeting moments of love or be the person that he was then.

And while Lightman is a gifted writer, I think it’s the scientist in him that kept me from fully engaging in the book. There were sections of the book that bored me – a lot of the first 50 pages or so- but when Charles was fully sucked into his past, reliving his love affair with the enigmatic, Juliana, I went with him gladly, even though I knew it would not end well.

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