September 17, 2012

BOOKS: One Last Thing Before I Go, Jonathan Tropper (2012)

Here we have one week in the life of Drew Silver. Silver (as everyone calls him) was briefly sort of famous -- the drummer for a one-hit rock band -- but things have gone downhill ever since that brief moment of glory. The band's lead singer went on to massive solo success; his ex-wife is about to marry a guy so nice that Silver can't even bring himself to dislike him; he hasn't really had a relationship with his daughter in years; and he's holed up a sorry little apartment in a building that has because the town's unofficial Home for Sad Divorced Men.

All of which means that when Silver learns he needs emergency heart surgery to save his life, he's inclined to pass; after all, there's not really much of a life to save, is there? This decision does not sit well with Silver's family or with his sort-of friends (his fellow divorced guys with whom he spends most days just lounging by the pool at the apartment complex), and the novel is largely a battle of wills between Silver and everyone else, with the world arguing that Silver should live and Silver looking desperately for one good reason to bother doing so. It is occasionally a bit of a mystery as to why some of these people are so determined to keep Silver alive, since as he himself admits, he really is a bit of a schmuck, and most people's lives seem to improve the moment he leaves them.

This all sounds like the makings for a rather glum tale, but Silver is self-aware enough to recognize the bleak humor of his situation, and Tropper puts enough comic twists on events to keep it from ever becoming unbearably dark. Silver's daughter, Casey, is particularly useful in this regard; she's inherited her father's sardonic, dry view of the world, but is young enough that those tendencies haven't yet begun withering into cynicism.

The novel isn't as broadly funny as Tropper's last book, This Is Where I Leave You (a fabulous book), which also milks the humor from a bleak situation -- the slow collapse of a man's life during a week of sitting shiva for his father. The humor here is more understated and subtle, and the storytelling is calmer. But the characters are vivid, the emotions ring true, and I enjoyed the book a great deal.

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