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Thursday, September 20, 2012

Book Talk: *One Last Thing Before I Go*, by Jonathan Tropper

cover of ONE LAST THING BEFORE I GO, via IndieBound.org One Last Thing Before I Go
Jonathan Tropper (Twitter)
Dutton Adult (August 2012), Hardcover (ISBN 0525952365 / 9780525952367)
Fiction, 352 pages
Source: ARC obtained at Book Expo America 2012
Reason for reading: Personal

Opening lines: “This is Tuesday, just under three weeks before his wife will be getting married, and a few days before Silver will tentatively decide that life isn’t necessarily worth living when you’ve been doing it as poorly as he has. It is seven years and four months or so since Denise divorced him for a host of valid reasons, and roughly eight years since his band, the Bent Daisies, released its only album and became rock stars overnight on the strength of their solitary hit, ‘Rest in Pieces.’ For one blessed summer it seemed as if the entire world was singing that song.”
Book description, from the publisher’s website:You don’t have to look very hard at Drew Silver to see that mistakes have been made. His fleeting fame as the drummer for a one-hit wonder rock band is nearly a decade behind him. He lives in the Versailles, an apartment building filled almost exclusively with divorced men like him, and makes a living playing in wedding bands. His ex-wife, Denise, is about to marry a guy Silver can’t quite bring himself to hate. And his Princeton-bound teenage daughter Casey has just confided in him that she’s pregnant—because Silver is the one she cares least about letting down.

So when he learns that his heart requires emergency, lifesaving surgery, Silver makes the radical decision to refuse the operation, choosing instead to use what little time he has left to repair his relationship with Casey, become a better man, and live in the moment, even if that moment isn't destined to last very long. As his exasperated family looks on, Silver grapples with the ultimate question of whether or not his own life is worth saving.With the wedding looming and both Silver and Casey in crisis, this broken family struggles to come together, only to risk damaging each other even more.
Comments: With novels like How to Talk to a Widower, This Is Where I Leave You, and his newest, One Last Thing Before I Go, Jonathan Tropper seems to be staking out his own territory of fiction whose major theme is death (and divorce, which is a kind of death in its way, I suppose). Considering that subject matter, it's a surprisingly humorous place; and in light of the humor, its emotional resonance and insight can seem even more surprising.

Drew Silver--just "Silver" to nearly everyone, including his ex-wife, his semi-estranged daughter, and his own parents--has been physically and emotionally stuck for the better part of a decade, since the breakups of both his band and his marriage. When he's the first to be told by his daughter Casey--just graduated from high school as class valedictorian--that she's pregnant, no one's more surprised than he is, unless it's her. But the bigger surprise is that when he accompanies her to a clinic for what should be a fairly simple procedure, he's the one who ends up in the hospital. Tests after a small stroke reveal an aortic tear--a life-threatening condition, but at a stage where it can easily be fixed by surgery. But Silver doesn't want it fixed--he's screwed up enough, and all he wants is time to fix his relattionship with Casey before he makes his exit.

The father-daughter relationship is the central one in One Last Thing Before I Go, and it's a messy, complicated, ultimately endearing one. Silver believes Casey is a much better child than he deserves--she's clearly not perfect, but on balance, he's probably right about that, although their simultaneous crises are providing plenty of opportunities for him to make things up to her. His efforts to do that, fumbling as some of them are, were what eventually won me over. Silver has a massive self-pitying streak and was clearly suffering from untreated depression even before he accepted a probable death sentence; both are understandable, but as much as I wanted to sympathize, there were stretches of the novel where I found it pretty difficult.

In fact, what stands out to me about One Last Thing... is that it was a funny novel that made me feel profoundly sad for its characters at least as much as it tickled me. I didn't find it funny in the same way as This Is Where I Leave You; while it does have a few strong set pieces, much of its humor is wry, observational, and tinged with a very dark edge. It suits the material, but it wasn't quite what I expected. And I definitely did not expect to be moved nearly to tears, but I was, and more than just once or twice. That reaction made me question whether Tropper might actually be off his game; I was well into the novel before I decided that he was he very much on it, but he'd changed up the rules just a bit.

I usually write up my thoughts on a book as soon as possible after I finish it, but it took several days before I was ready to do that with One Last Thing Before I Go. I didn't expect to be so affected by it, but I'm so glad I was. Not only is Jonathan Tropper on his game here, he's raised the stakes; this may be his richest novel yet, and I think it may end up as one of my favorite reads of the year.

Rating: 4 of 5

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