‘One Last Thing Before I Go’ by Jonathan Tropper

Bravo! It’s as good as This is Where I Leave You.

I’ve read lots of Jonathan Tropper since I happened across This is Where I Leave You a year ago. It was a remarkable book – it had me laughing out loud and bawling my eyes out within the space of one page. The books I’ve read of Tropper’s since then have been terrific but lacked the emotional vulnerability of This is Where I Leave You. Until now. Tropper’s latest book, One Last Thing Before I Go, has it all – lots of laughs, plenty of tears and beautifully vivid characters.

One Last Thing Before I Go is the story of Drew Silver, a guy who has made the odd mistake in life – his fleeting fame as the drummer for a one-hit wonder rock band is nearly a decade behind him. He lives in the Versailles, an apartment building filled almost exclusively with divorced men like him, and makes a living playing in wedding bands. His ex-wife, Denise, is about to marry a guy Silver can’t quite bring himself to hate. And his Princeton-bound teenage daughter Casey has just confided in him that she’s pregnant—because Silver is the one she cares least about letting down.

So when Silver learns that his heart requires emergency, lifesaving surgery, he makes the radical decision to refuse the operation, choosing instead to use what little time he has left to repair his relationship with Casey, become a better man, and live in the moment, even if that moment isn’t destined to last very long. As his exasperated family looks on, Silver grapples with the ultimate question of whether or not his own life is worth saving.

Here’s what I really love about Tropper – every character is thoroughly thought through, the small details of their behaviour and actions adding up to create a character that you can imagine well beyond the bounds of the book. Even the bit-parts (in this book, Sad Tod is a good example – he’s another resident at Versailles and the couple of mentions of him are enough to leave a lasting impression) are memorable. Here’s another nice example –

She is a drab sliver of a woman, with paper-thin lips and the harried expression of someone who has long since resigned herself to being the only competent person on the planet.”

I particularly liked Silver’s two friends, Jack and Oliver. –

“Jack, as usual, is overdressed, in a black blazer and dress shirt, taking his cues from whatever he last saw George Clooney wearing. Oliver is wearing inadvisable cargo pants and a baseball cap.”

I made a bit of a fool of myself with this book. As I sat waiting for my son’s guitar lesson to finish I thought I could squeeze in a little reading. I was up to the scene where Silver’s parents tell him that they have no desire to bury their son. Cue the tears. I had no tissues in my bag. Tried to compose myself but I was verging on a cry that involved snot. Had to pull the pin on the reading until I was in the safety of my own bed that night, full box of tissues next to me!

On the flip side, it’s a really funny book. Tropper’s humour comes across as effortless and seamlessly blends with the story. So much so that if you read ‘the funny bits’ out loud to someone else, they don’t work as well. They’re good because you’re invested in the characters and the funny bits have context.

“But Mrs. Zeiring is looking at him, not with anger or surprise, but a strange half-smile, and he decides that the only thing worse than spontaneously breaking into a Christian hymn at a Jewish funeral while dressed for a wedding would be not to finish it. So he does, slowly, and with feeling, while Mrs. Zeiring closes her eyes and thinks some secret truths to herself, and up at the lectern Silver’s poor father somehow achieves some measure of dignity as he quietly shits a hard square brick.”

Some people might find Tropper’s stories a little too clever. I say no to that – there are enough loose ends undone and enough decidedly un-Hollywood endings to give his stories an element of truth.

What to pair this ace story with? I thought about the kind of food I’d eat if I had one week left to live. Grilled cheese and tomato sandwiches would be there, so much the better for the addition of bacon! It doesn’t need a recipe but here’s one for Garlic-Rubbed Grilled Cheese with Bacon and Tomatoes. Make yourself one of those babies, sit down with this book and you won’t get a better afternoon.

5/5 Any book that makes me laugh AND cry wins.

7 responses

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