Saturday, August 25, 2012

Book Review: "One Last Thing Before I Go" by Jonathan Tropper

I don't know Jonathan Tropper, or what his life has been like, but he sure does have the ability to provide pitch-perfect perspective into young (and not-so-young) men struggling with what they've made of their lives. His This is Where I Leave You was my favorite book of 2009, and I've enjoyed a number of his earlier books as well, because I love how he gives poignantly funny voice to these somewhat dysfunctional men as they try to get a handle on their past, present, and future.

In his newest book, One Last Thing Before I Go, Drew Silver is a 40-something musician who briefly had a taste of fame as the drummer of a one-hit-wonder band years before. What he has become good at is making a shambles of things—his ex-wife is getting remarried, and his college-bound daughter, with whom he shares a sporadic relationship, has just revealed she's pregnant. To top it off, he drinks too much, has gained weight, and lives in the Versailles, an apartment building mostly populated with divorced men like him. He finds it's easier to do nothing than risk disappointing others, or himself.

When he discovers he needs a life-saving operation to repair a tear in his aorta, he decides that rather than spend more time in the sad state his life has become, he'll refuse to have the operation. That decision, of course, doesn't sit well with his family or friends, and neither does his newly found habit of actually speaking his thoughts out loud, which leads to numerous awkward, painful, and emotional situations. What Silver wants more than anything is to be a better man, be a better father, and to fall in love, but whether he can accomplish any of those before dying—or being abandoned by those he loves—is anyone's guess.

One of Jonathan Tropper's strengths as a writer is his skill in creating characters that you don't necessarily admire but can't help but like. His voice is also tremendous—he's definitely comfortable throwing in humor to temper the pathos and emotional situations, but it never feels forced or false. And if this book isn't as funny as some of his earlier ones, that's more than fine. Silver's journey of self-discovery (and some self-loathing) takes you on an enjoyable and engrossing ride, one that makes you laugh, makes you smile, and maybe even tears you up just a little.

Tropper is definitely one of those authors you should get to know, unless the whole man-in-early-midlife-crisis mode thing doesn't work for you. And even then, don't be deterred.

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