By the Book @ Rogers Memorial Library

One Last Thing Before I Go, by Jonathan Tropper

When critics speak about Jonathan Tropper’s work, the focus seems to be on his dark humor and his “everyman” characters.  What I love about Tropper, however, is his ability to cut to the heart of any situation with a few words.  A sentence can feel like a punch in the belly, causing the reader to flinch in sympathy.  In his latest work, One Last Thing Before I Go, Tropper explores the life of Drew Silver, an ex-drummer for a one-hit-wonder rock band.  Now he plays weddings and bar mitzvahs, and donates sperm for money.  Silver (as everyone including his daughter calls him), lives in Versailles, a sad apartment tower full of divorced men.  His wife is about to remarry and his 18-year-old daughter, Casey,  has chosen to tell him that she is pregnant…because of all the people in her life, she cares the least about disappointing him.

Although Silver has let down just about everyone in his life, he remains eminently likeable.  His cluelessness and his knowledge of his failings may seem to be contradictory traits, but Silver just can’t help screwing things up.  His good intentions are somehow lost in drink, depression, and pure fecklessness.  When doctors diagnose Silver with a heart condition that could kill him without surgical intervention, he decides that he won’t have the operation — he’s had enough.  He’s determined to devote what little time he has left  to repairing his relationship with his daughter and to living a better life.

Silver is surrounded by a loving family, including his rabbi father and long-suffering mother.  He has become estranged from his brother, since he finds too much pain in Chuck’s perfect wife, children and job.  Denise, his ex-wife and the mother of Casey, harbors both rage and tenderness towards Silver.  All of these people are frustrated by Silver’s decision to forego surgery, believing that he might still turn his life around.  Silver isn’t so sure about this…and he is really tired.

Tropper has also peopled this novel with wonderful secondary characters.  From Lily, who sings to the children at the local book store, to Jack and Oliver, the guys who have become his friends at the Versailles, all of Tropper’s charcters stand out and play their own parts in the drama that is Silver’s life.

One of the symptoms of Silver’s condition is his tendency to voice the thoughts in his head.  From declarations of love, to untimely revelations of other people’s secrets, his honesty often shocks those who listen, and sometimes allows them to be more honest as well.  The humor comes in when a variety of different characters ask Silver, “You know you are saying that out loud, right?”

Funny, sad, sweet and just a little heartbreaking…these terms describe both Silver and One Last Thing Before I Go.  While Silver may not redeem himself entirely, he gives it his best effort.  Yet, as Silver says, “Forgiveness has its comforts, but it can never give you back what you’ve lost.”

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