What could be better than starting the year’s reading off with a book that will remain in your heart for a long time? Having just finished Walter Mosley’s The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey, I can confidently say that I have started my reading off right, and I’m happy to have my first new book recommendation of the year.
With Ptolemy Grey as a protagonist, this book immediately pulled me in right from the first pages. At ninety-one, Ptolemy’s mind is failing him, having become crowded and difficult to navigate, no different than his neglected apartment and its overflowing mess. When a teenaged friend of a relative enters his life, he is touched by the respect and attention she gives him, and its enough to nudge him to seek a doctor’s care in hopes that some treatment could be rendered. The treatment is available, he discovers, but it is uncertain and any possible positive effects would come at a likely significant price. Weighing the potential clarity of mind that would be followed by a hastened death against the certain continued decline of his mental capacity, Ptolemy takes a leap, fueled by the feeling that he has significant unfinished business in his life to which he must attend.
What follows is a story that combines the power of Ptolemy’s memories with the sudden ability to see the present more clearly than ever before, and it is an incredibly powerful one at that. Even when the Ptolemy was deep in the throes of dementia, he still managed to be more compelling and interesting than most fictional characters, and his character comes to life for readers through snippets of memories from throughout his life, especially those involving his childhood mentor, Coy. As a result, the blurriness of his character sharpens for us as he continues to tell his story, coinciding with his own path of clarity.
Immediately, I was taken by this story, and I longed to help Ptolemy put the pieces of his mind back together to fulfill my curiosity. This novel exemplifies impeccable writing- not one word was out of place or unnecessary, there wasn’t one bit of fluff. The dog-earred pages of my copy mark numerous passages that just blew me away, like this one:
“The older you get the more you live in the past,” Coy intoned like a minsiter introducing his sermon. “Old man like me don’t have no first blue sky or thunderstorm or kiss. Old man like me don’t laugh at the taste of a strawberry or smell his own stink and smile. You right there in the beginnin’ when everything was new and true. My world is made outta ash and memories, broken bones and pain.”
The characters’ voices immediately jumped off the page in their authenticity, and this entire novel was tinged by a palpable tenderness that comes at the end of a long lived life. There’s no doubt that The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey is my first entry on this year’s 5 Star Reads compilation, and I’m recommending it highly as a novel that simply needs to be read.
Dawn has always been lured by a good story, and she’s happily passing the love for books on to her children. Their (mis)adventures and other various tidbits from life are chronicled on her blog, my thoughts exactly.