The Last First Kiss by Walter Bennett
"Walter Bennett's literary range is startling. From the surefooted Leaving Tuscaloosa, a coming-of-age novel set in Civil Rights era Alabama, to The Last First Kiss, a meditation on the depredations of aging, Bennett writes with utter authority. At first blush, this new novel seems like a beach romance set over four days, with the menace of an impending hurricane adding tension. The main characters—high school sweethearts now in their mid-70s—are people of great privilege and means. They don't miss any meals during their autumn rendezvous on the Outer Banks, and they know their preferred bottles of wine and artisan spirits. But Bennett rips the covers off their comfort as they revisit the 50-some years they did not share. He, a Vietnam vet, and she, a Peace Corps volunteer, have lost their spouses, still suffer from PTSD, and now face medical challenges they cannot escape at the beach or anywhere else. As foolish as teenagers, they go for a midnight swim and barely survive a pre-storm rip tide, some of the best writing in the book. Then they decide to ride out the hurricane in place. What they recognize about the shambles of their lives is affirmed by the year-round African-American residents of the island who have put their village back together, year after year, storm after storm, only to be walloped again by the irrefutable power of Nature."
— Georgann Eubanks, author of Saving the Wild South: The Fight for Native Plants on the Brink of Extinction
"Walter Bennett's The Last First Kiss is a true gem of a novel, finely cut, brilliantly polished, and chosen from excellent stone. He's taken what could have been a simple love story and imbued it with such honesty, originality, and sincerity that it rises above its genre and into rarely visited territory. The book is a gift of clean prose, realistic dialogue, a setting that leaps from the page, and, most of all, two characters who transcend labels and carry us into the complicated depths of human individuality. Bennett ventures bravely into aspects of life-aging, regret, imperfection, doubt-that most writers glide across or avoid entirely. I admired this book greatly and enjoyed it from first page to last."
—Roland Merullo, author of Breakfast with Buddha and A Little Love Story
Ace Sinclair has one eye on a hurricane churning up from the south and the other on his old high school sweetheart, J'nelle Reade, whom he has invited, on impulse, to spend a weekend with him at his Outer Banks beach house. Now in their seventies, both widowed, Ace and J'nelle expect to relive old memories. They soon discover that the past is still with them more than they know, and they are pulled into a haunting search among old memories of betrayals, mistakes and missed chances for the illusive truth of their lives. As a dangerous hurricane turns in the Atlantic and heads their way, time runs short, and they must choose between the tidal pull of old dreams and the future's wide unknown.
Walter Bennett, a retired attorney, lives in Chapel Hill, NC and Bozeman, MT, with his wife and dogs.