I had never heard of author Jonathan Tropper prior to reading a positive review of his latest novel, One Last Thing Before I Go, in a magazine. I love when good reviews lead me to make a new-to-me author discovery. It was even better news to love the book and then notice that this is Tropper's fifth novel. If his other novel are even a fraction as good as this one, then I have a lot to look forward to.
One Last Thing Before I Go is centered around Silver, a middle-aged divorced man, who once rose to minor fame as a drummer in a one-hit-wonder band. His glory days are now long in the past and he has screwed up his marriage, his relationship with his teenage daughter and he is broke, living in a hotel populated by sad men in similar situations.
Silver's depressing life is about to be rocked in several ways. His ex-wife, Denise, is about to remarry, his daughter, Casey, has just informed him that she is pregnant and Silver has been diagnosed with a life-threatning medical condition that requires a surgery that he won't consent to have.
The best thing about Tropper's novel are the characters. I guarantee that everyone has a Silver in their life. Silver is a guy who is not a bad person, but who is a perpetual screw-up. He has screwed-up for so long that he doesn't even know how to make things right and he has given-up.
He is so down on himself that even though he has a loving family, he thinks that they would be better off without him. On the other hand, he is not actively suicidal. He is a wafter. He is stubborn about refusing to have a potentially life saving surgery, yet terrified that he might die on the operating table. It's this behavior that his family finds utterly maddening and heartbreaking. They desperately want him to step up to the plate.
I found Denise to be a particularly sympathetic character. She's flawed, confused and ultimately makes some really horrible choices. She still holds out hope that her ex-husband will change and years later, she is still in mourning over the demise of their marriage. However, Denise also recognizes that she found a solid partner in her fiancé and a man who has stepped up to the plate in a way that Silver never could. Adding another sad layer to the story, Silver also recognizes that Denise's fiancé is a better man than he is able to be and begrudgingly accepts the change.
As a form of intervention, Silver's father, Ruben, makes a deal with Silver. Ruben is a Rabi and he asks Silver to attend one each of a major life event in which he is presiding. Silver must attend a funeral, a bris, a bar mitzvah and a wedding. Ruben hopes that the events might stir Silver's emotions and get him out of his funk.
Tropper's story is filled with sad, lonely and isolated characters. Oddly though, Tropper's novel isn't depressing. It's surprisingly funny and irreverent. It's also hopeful in a way when you realize that the characters are products of their own choices or ways of thinking. None of them actually have horrible lives and their depression is of their own doing. They have dug their own holes, yet they are also capable of climbing out of them.
One Last Thing Before I Go has a compelling plot and memorable characters. I look forward to reading more novels by Tropper and I'm confident that I will soon count him among my favorite contemporary authors.