Wednesday, January 26, 2011

"The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey" by Walter Mosley

Summary: 91-year-old Ptolemy Grey has a difficult time remembering things, and his thoughts often flutter from one point to another, making it hard for him to piece together any one memory.  When Reggie, his great-grandnephew who checked in on him, dies in a drive-by shooting, Robyn, a young woman living with a member of Ptolemy's family, begins caring for him.  Robyn truly cares about Ptolemy, cleaning up his squalid apartment and showing him love and care.  Ptolemy begins to piece together parts of his life and decides there are things he needs to finish before he dies.

Musings: In some ways The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey is kind of like deciding to buy a giant piece of cake from the grocery store to eat as an afternoon snack instead of just going home and eating the celery you know is already in the fridge.  The celery is better for you, and the cake may ring too sickly sweet once you finish, but gosh do you feel great chomping that cake down.  Ptolemy Grey is filled with "perfect" characters who are exactly as they appear and don't have the nasty habit of disappointing.  You know they won't withstand any kind of characterization scrutiny, but it's still enjoyable to read about good people doing good things and getting proper rewards.  So I guess all of this is a roundabout way of saying I quite enjoyed Ptolemy Grey (even more so than that cake).

Our perfect characters are Ptolemy, a sweet elderly man determined to give to everyone, and Robyn, a beautiful and saintly young woman who devotes her existence to caring, loving, and supporting the nonagenarian.  Robyn instantly likes Ptolemy, listening to him and clearing out his filthy apartment (in what would have been the most uplifting episode of Hoarders ever had it been real).  She never gets bored, angry, or mad with him, and in fact the two spend most of the book mooning over how they would get married if he were forty years younger and she twenty years older.

But, really, I'm sounding critical when I was fully engrossed in the novel.  Ptolemy is an endearing character, and the reader gets a look into various aspects of his life, primarily his relationship as a boy with an elderly man named Coydog McCann.  There's joy in seeing his life improve (and keep improving!) through the love of Robyn.

Most of the book follows Ptolemy's train of thought in the early stages of dementia, so it's a bit surprising when, two-thirds of the way through the book, Ptolemy feels certain he needs to take an experimental drug that will return his memories but shorten his life.  He suddenly has to do certain things before he dies, and I was a little surprised at the sudden assurance.

By the end of the novel everything is neatly and happily wrapped up; there are no great mysteries revealed nor any sudden failings by our angelic characters.  However, I also felt happy while reading (I found it hard to put down) and after I finished. Ptolemy Grey is a good choice for someone who wants a heart-warming book with a more unique style and a minimum of corniness.

***This book qualifies for the POC Reading Challenge.

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