The Last Night at the Ritz

Ahh — getting back into reading is like sinking into a hot bath. For a few weeks there, I was worried that I’d lost the ability to concentrate on words on a page, but it turns out that circumstances and surroundings do matter when you’re trying to read. Now back in my book cave, I can power through the pages and follow the plot line without having thoughts run through the back of my mind of things I had to take care of. Published in 1973, a woman in her 50s details the last night she will get together with her best friend Gay and Gay’s hubbie Len, along with narrator’s on-again-off-again affair subject: Wes. The threesome meet for drinks (“accidentally” bumping into Wes at the bar) and they all determine to make a night of it, which means drinks and publishing party and dinner with Len’s assistant Marta (with whom he’s supposedly having an affair). The two women (Gay & the narrator) met in college, became fast friends and bonded over literature. Excellent descriptions of Gay’s grandmother’s house staggering under a weight of books, chattering uncles smoking and creating havoc. Narrator is childless but considers Charley (Gay’s son) as her own, receiving his confidences and helping to pay for the abortion which, though legal, killed his love by septic shock. But back to the last night, they head to a publishing party with Marta and pick up Walter, a soon-to-be-published author who makes them a sixsome. Drinks at a place called the Merry-go-round which goes around and one must gather courage to jump on, getting off somewhat easier with a few slugs of alcohol making you fearless. Len is tense, Gay puts up with Marta’s presence, Charley (the son) is in Canada escaping the draft but in trouble. Everyone drinks too much, and at dinner Len tries to overturn his neighbors’ table in a fit of rage. Slinking out unsure of who paid, there’s an attempted mugging that goes nowhere and the six chase the boy into a Boston graveyard “There’s Paul Revere!” then the two women sit on a bench and talk, finally, about Gay’s problems. The narrator never mentions her own problems. They bedraggle back to the hotel and have a fitful sleep. In the morning, Gay & Len leave together, Wes puts narrator in a cab and steps out of earshot for the address. We end with the narrator in a hospital, awaiting treatment she doesn’t expect to do anything but kill her.
The posh narrator tosses out witticisms at a tight clip, some of my favorites below:

It is very dangerous to get caught without something to read… You can’t very well lug an encyclopedia around hotels. Fortunately, I did have my flask.

On why she didn’t really want to get married:

I rather preferred the hurly-burly of the chaise lounge to the deep peace of the double bed.