The Last Conversation: Somber and disturbing

The Last Conversation by Paul Tremblay science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsThe Last Conversation by Paul Tremblay science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsThe Last Conversation by Paul Tremblay

A person — whose name and gender are never specified, because that person is “you” — wakes up, alone in a room. You’re blind and in intense pain, and at first you remember nothing at all of your past. You only hear one person, Dr. Anne Kuhn, who instructs you through a speaker: testing you mentally, badgering you to exercise, and, little by little, giving you bits of information about your past life and about why you are where you are now. Gradually it becomes clear that something disastrous has happened.

The Last Conversation (2019) is an odd but compelling and ominous science fiction novella from Paul Tremblay. It’s reminiscent of a Twilight Zone episode: strange, somber and slightly horrific in a slow-burn way, with a surprising reveal at the end (or perhaps not so surprising to a perceptive reader; there are some clues as to where this story is heading, though I didn’t guess it myself).

Telling a story in second person — presumably to increase readers’ perception that they’re in the place of the main character — is a tricky thing to pull off well. Combined with the fact that the main character’s name is never given and there’s just a blank line in the text every time Anne speaks their name, it added to the general sense of unease. Perhaps that was intentional on Tremblay’s part; in which case, mission accomplished.

The Last Conversation is a slower-paced work that steadily and inexorably moves toward its disturbing conclusion. Given the main character’s lack of memory and needing to relearn many physical and manual skills from scratch, Tremblay’s approach does make some sense, and the pacing didn’t drag enough to bother me because this was such a quick read. Still, it’s a good thing this is a short novella; if it were longer I think it would have collapsed under its own weight.

The ending was a decent payoff, although it raised several unanswered questions. Anne’s motivations for their final, key conversation are somewhat murky, and the underlying science that is critical to the plot is extremely hand-wavey.

The Last Conversation is part of the FORWARD collection proposed and curated by Blake Crouch. It’s a set of six stand-alone novellas, each by a different author, that explore the “effects of a pivotal technological moment.” The authors are Crouch, N.K. Jemisin, Veronica Roth, Amor Towles, Tremblay and Andy Weir. The individual novellas are reasonably priced and available in ebook and audio form individually or as a set.

Published in November 2019. What’s more frightening: Not knowing who you are? Or finding out? A Bram Stoker Award–winning author explores the answer in a chilling story about identity and human consciousness. Imagine you’ve woken up in an unfamiliar room with no memory of who you are, how you got there, or where you were before. All you have is the disconnected voice of an attentive caretaker. Dr. Kuhn is there to help you—physically, emotionally, and psychologically. She’ll help you remember everything. She’ll make sure you reclaim your lost identity. Now answer one question: Are you sure you want to? Paul Tremblay’s The Last Conversation is part of Forward, a collection of six stories of the near and far future from out-of-this-world authors. Each piece can be read or listened to in a single thought-provoking sitting.

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TADIANA JONES, on our staff since July 2015, is an intellectual property lawyer with a BA in English. She inherited her love of classic and hard SF from her father and her love of fantasy and fairy tales from her mother. She lives with her husband and four children in a small town near the mountains in Utah. Tadiana juggles her career, her family, and her love for reading, travel and art, only occasionally dropping balls. She likes complex and layered stories and characters with hidden depths. Favorite authors include Lois McMaster Bujold, Brandon Sanderson, Robin McKinley, Connie Willis, Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, Megan Whalen Turner, Patricia McKillip, Mary Stewart, Ilona Andrews, and Susanna Clarke.

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2 comments

  1. Thanks for reviewing this. I recently realized I’ve never read anything by him yet.

  2. I’ve heard Tremblay pegged as a horror author, but the horror element in this novella is fairly subtle. I haven’t read anything else by him either.

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