by William Wharton

There's something oddly compelling in this story of a middle-aged American man's affair with an elderly, blind Parisian woman. Like the author's previous novels Birdy and Dad, it is sentimental. Yet despite heavy-handed messages—the woman's blindness enables her to "see" her lover's soul—and stilted language, Wharton infuses his tale with enough detail and passion that you end up caring about Mirabelle and "Jacques."

"Jacques" is Mirabelle's name for Jack Laughton, an American businessman who moves his family to Paris at his company's request and then ignores them. His wife, Lorrie, takes a lover and eventually returns to the States. Jack, in raging midlife crisis, chucks his job to be a street painter and meets Mirabelle, the 71-year-old innocent who changes his world.

Some readers may be as horrified as Jack initially is at the thought of these two being lovers. But Mirabelle grows on him. While some plot devices are shameless—that Mirabelle encounters a miracle after losing her virginity should rile feminists—Wharton's inventive ending makes it likely that Last Lovers will become a cult classic on the order of Harold and Maude. (Farrar Straus Giroux, $22)

  • Contributors:
  • Eric Levin,
  • Sara Nelson,
  • Ralph Novak,
  • Ken Gross,
  • Susan Toepfer.