Review of “One Last Thing Before I Go” by Jonathan Tropper

This is a book that ended exactly as it should have, but I still hated the ending (even while admiring the writer for not catering to readers like me).

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This book might be described as a “coming-of-age” story about a 44-year-old divorced man, Drew Silver, who finally decides to grow up. Silver’s usual way of handling difficult situations is to let people down – almost willfully; or, if that doesn’t work, to suggest going for ice cream cones:

‘What is it with you and ice-cream cones?’

He licks around the edge of his cone as he considers the question. ‘I guess no one ever eats an ice-cream cone at a funeral, or a fire. The Red Cross doesn’t drop ice-cream cones into third-world countries. If you’re eating an ice-cream cone, it’s just very hard to believe that things have gone completely to shit.”

But for Silver, they pretty much have.

This is also a story about a group of lonely divorced men and their hurts, fears, regrets, and the touching relationships they develop with one another; about an estranged father and daughter; and about the saving grace, and redemption, that comes from finally having the courage to have a little hope, and to take a chance on it.

The basic plot centers around Silver, a former one-hit-wonder rock band drummer, who now plays at bar mitzvahs and weddings, and also regularly donates sperm for extra cash. He finds out he has an aortic tear and will die without surgery. He doesn’t really see a reason why he should go on living, however. And although he has loving parents who visit him often, he thinks his life is meaningless and pathetic:

These visits kill him, because he loves them too, and because he knows his sad little life hurts them, maybe even more profoundly than it sometimes hurts him, which means these visits probably kill them too. So every other weekend they spend an hour or so together that leaves them all depressed and depleted, but they never miss it, and if that’s not the best definition of family, then he doesn’t know what is.”

Silver lives at an old hotel converted to an apartment building – a broken-down place for broken-down divorced men. On weekend afternoons they all sit around the pool and detail their respective and successive losses. His two best friends there are the wickedly funny but fiercely loyal Jack and Oliver. Since Silver has gotten sick, he has started vocalizing his thoughts to them without even being aware he is doing so:

Jack and Oliver are staring at him.

‘Did I just say all that out loud?’ Silver.

‘Your inner monologue seems to have broken free.’ Oliver

‘Shit.’ Silver.

‘You were very eloquent.’ Oliver.

‘And by eloquent, he means depressing as shit.’ Jack.”

Silver’s estranged 18-year-old daughter Casey comes to see him because she finds herself pregnant after her first sexual experience, and doesn’t know what to do. She tells Silver instead of her mom, Denise, because she doesn’t care as much about letting Silver down. As for Denise, she has mixed feelings about Silver. She thinks, “We don’t stop loving people just because we hate them, but we don’t stop hating them either.” The drama between Silver and Denise is not helping Casey, however:

‘I AM PREGNANT!’ Casey shouts at them, her voice cracking. ‘I am scared and lost and fucked, and you’re both too busy fucking up your own lives to give a shit! I need my parents! Real parents! Not this goddamn freak show!”

Meanwhile, Denise is about to get married again to a man named Rich, who also happens to be a heart surgeon. He may hate Silver in some ways, but he is a doctor first, and wants to save him. Silver, however, is not much interested in being saved.

Discussion: Tropper is adept at capturing the bonds that tie families to each other, showing how they are at once powerful and fragile, allowing for different patterns among different members, and different ways of triggering the most cutting hurt, or the most profound experience of love. He is also skilled at conjuring up moods and inspiring empathy in the reader; his dialogue flows with an ease that allows you to stay inside the story, and to feel, along with the characters, what they are feeling.

Evaluation: Every one of these richly nuanced characters is dear – even Silver, who is almost always saying or doing the wrong thing. The story is gut-wrenching in some parts and very funny in others, with sardonic, witty repartee that manages, in spite of its humor, to remind you of the many ways the heart can break – both physically and emotionally.

Rating: 4/5

Published by Dutton, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 2012

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11 Responses

  1. This book made me laugh but I still didn’t love it. (I did like it, though.) I wanted a little more action out of the characters.

  2. Jonathan Tropper is one of those authors I feel I need to read at some point in time. This one sounds promising. I’ll have to check it out!

  3. I really loved Tropper’s earlier book This is Where I Leave You and have been sitting on an audio review copy of this one for a year… time to get listening!

  4. I need to give Tropper a try. Glad to know you enjoyed this one even if the end made you mad.

  5. I read this one a while ago and enjoyed it as well.

  6. I have one of Trooper’s books to read from my shelf but I haven’t picked it up yet. This is another one I keep meaning to read.

  7. I want to read Tropper. I started to listen to one of his books last year but the player broke and I’ve not gone back. I remember it was funny and sad at the same time.

  8. I love Jonathan Tropper and your review reminded me that I have this book laying around here somewhere. I need to find it and read – it sounds great.

  9. Sounds like a book that clearly demonstrates that hate is not the opposite of love, huh? I bet I would like this one. Have yet to read this author but I think I may have something on the tbr already.

  10. I feel like I need to give Tropper a second chance. I tried to listen to one of his others but I just couldn’t get into it (audio). But I do love reading about families and relationships. Hrmmmm.

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