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Thursday, August 23, 2012

One Last Thing Before I Go: Sadly Satisfying

Jonathan Tropper's new novel, One Last Thing Before I Go, is like that sad, too-self-deprecating friend everyone has, who, despite the fact that he depresses you to no end, you still hang out with him because he's entertaining as hell. It's a bit of a departure from Tropper's first five novels  — which are usually crackling with one-liners and populated by dudes getting wantonly laid without trying too hard.

Indeed, One Last Thing Before I Go is Tropper's most melancholic novel. While still often funny and with much of Tropper's signature dude-humor, its main goal really seems to be to explore how badly beaten you have to be to decide you'd rather not live anymore. That's the decision our protagonist, 44-year-old Silver, makes. Silver, a former drummer in a one-hit-wonder rock band called The Bent Daisies, has been divorced for seven years, and his ex-wife is about to marry a rich, handsome doctor. Also, his 18-year-old daughter Casey is pregnant, and only decides to tell Silver because she's not-at-all worried about letting him down.

So when Silver winds up in the hospital with a rare heart condition — which a simple surgery will solve — Silver declines to be operated on, deciding instead to put his affairs in order as best he can, and wait for death's call.

But something odd happens on the way to the grave. "Silver doesn't really know how to explain it. It's like he's been inexpertly rewired. Signals are being mixed, relays being tripped, power surging and waning, and he's acting on impulses before he knows he has them."

When you've got nothing to lose, you live your life like losing doesn't matter. And so the rest of the novel follows Silver around as he speaks his mind (sometimes when he doesn't even realize he's talking out loud) and tries to make amends to his wounded family. Will he be able to rescue himself from his family's ire? Will he screw things up worse than they already are? Will he finally decide to have the surgery that'll save his life?

Tropper's one of my favorite writers — he's always fun to read because he says things in ways that make you wish you'd had his sentences in your arsenal of witty repartee when goofing off with your buddies at the bar. (Example: "The doctor who tells him he is going to die is the same man who will be marrying his ex-wife in two and a half weeks, which is either poetically just, or at least the sort of karmic fart that is emblematic of his life these days.)

But One Last Thing Before I Go strays into the cliché a few too many times to elevate it into the top tier of Tropper novels. There's actually a scene where Silver grabs a microphone at a Bat Mitzvah and professes his apologies and love for his daughter in front of all the guests. You could almost feel a John Hughes "slow-clap" coming on. And all the divorced dudes live in a converted hotel called The Versailles, which is reminiscent of "Casa Nova: A Transitional Place for Singles" from The Simpsons. There's others, too, which I can't tell you about without spoiling.

Still, only-okay Tropper is great reading. So four stars. 


10 comments:

  1. I just ordered this one. I really loved This is Where I Leave you and I've been wanting to try another Tropper.

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    1. Nice - I hope you enjoy it! Everything Changes is my favorite Tropper, but This Is Where I Leave You is a close second.

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  2. "But One Last Thing Before I Go strays into the cliché a few too many times to elevate it into the top tier of Tropper novels. There's actually a scene where Silver grabs a microphone at a Bat Mitzvah and professes his apologies and love for his daughter in front of all the guests. You could almost feel a John Hughes "slow-clap" coming on."

    Change the details and this is exactly how I felt about This is Where I Leave You. The whole book was full of "movie moments" like that -- i.e. the siblings all smoking pot in a classroom and setting off the sprinklers (because that's how smoke detectors work).

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    1. I didn't see it that way at all. Why wouldn't pot smoke set off smoke detectors?

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    2. Pot smoke might set off smoke detectors. Pot smoke would not set of sprinklers, which react to heat. Except in funny scenes in movies, where something hilarious has to happen.

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    3. This company even had to include it in their FAQ to dispell rumors created by cliched writing...

      http://www.firesafesystems.com/faqs.html

      Q: Will all the fire sprinklers go off simultaneously and flood my home?
      A: Sprinklers that flood homes exist only in movies and on television. In reality, each sprinkler head has its own heat sensor and each sprinkler will operate only when the temperature reaches between 155 and 165 °F. A fire in the garage for example, will activate only the sprinkler(s) in the garage.

      Q: Can a sprinkler system go off by accident?
      A: The odds are 1 in 16 million that a sprinkler will accidentally discharge because of a manufacturing defect. Despite film and television scenarios, burnt toast or cigar smoke will not set off a fire sprinkler.

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  3. Hi, Greg. You're doing great work here, though it usually adds more to my TBR pile than it eliminates. But, great work, anyway, and just to show you I'm not blowing pot smoke up your tushie, I've made you my Featured Site of the Week. Hope it brings you a few extra visitors; you sure deserve them!

    - Jack
    www.jackshideout.com

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    1. That's fantastic - thanks! And thanks for the kinds words. --GZ

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  4. I am almost halfway done with this one. I agree that this isn't his best. (I liked How to Talk to a Widower a lot too.) I am finding Silver to be frustratingly passive. But I also agree that just-okay-Tropper is better than a lot of what's out there!

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    1. I liked How To Talk to a Widower, too - was so sad a lot of the time. Yeah, Silver's kind of irritating. Just sack up, dude!

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