Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Last Days of Ptolemy Gray

I just moved into my parent's house in Newton about two weeks ago. So far it has been going exceptionally well, although it bears mentioning that I don't have a license or a working bicycle at the moment, and so my sister and parents basically have to pick me up and drop me off everywhere I go. Last Thursday I had to day off work, my sister was working until 3, and my parents had vacated to the Cape for a few days, so I found myself helplessly stranded in Newton. Any other day this would be a huge inconvenience but since it was one of my days off, I saw it as an excuse to not do a whole lot. I am living there completely rent free, so I figured such hospitality warranted a few hours of cleaning. I did the kitchen and living room, and while in a flurry of dusting and inhaling various bacteria-free products, I stumbled across The Last Days of Ptolomy Grey in the form of an overdue library book.

I had been seeing this book around the store, it had been on remainder for a few weeks, and it intrigued me but I didn't pick it up. Now, however, trapped in Newton with nowhere to be, I started reading the novel. 80 pages later, Emma came home and I barely noticed. I got completely wrapped up in this book. I am a first time Walter Mosley reader, but this will not be the last of his books I read. The way Mosley weaves a story around Ptolemy, a 90 year old man stuck deep in crippling senility and memory loss. Mosley's prose is so skillful and poetic that he manages to create a world through Ptolemy's eyes in a very visceral way; Ptolemy's conscience wanders in an out of the present and what he remembers of his past, and the narrative follows seamlessly. Falling back on familiar literary tropes is easily done when talking about memory, but Mosley manages not to make me cringe while threading together time.

I haven't finished it yet, but essentially what the story is about so far is an old man who has trouble deciphering what is real and what is memory, and recalling memories that he should be able to access. With the help of his young caregiver, he takes a trial medicine (supposedly rom The Devil, which is another excitingly well-crafted parallel Mosley executes) that helps him remember everything but will also probably kill him in the process. Ptolemy doesn't care; all he needs is a few weeks to wrap up his affairs, and then he has no more use for his mind, body, or this mortal coil.

I find the characters realistically fascinating, the writing is beautiful but very, very easy to read, and the phonetic dialogue truthful without being insulting or pandering. I love this book! I'm so excited that Mosley has written so many other books. Thank god I have another day off tomorrow. I hope nobody is available to drive me anywhere. Definitely check out this novel!

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