Book Review: Walter Mosley’s THE LAST DAYS OF PTOLEMY GREY

Ptolemy Grey is a 91-year-old man living in a cluttered, squalid Los Angeles apartment, mostly forgotten by the world while forgetting his own past due to dementia. One day, Robyn, a 17-year-old orphan and family friend, comes over and starts cleaning up, sorting through the detritus and restoring order.  She also takes him to a doctor who’s looking for test subjects for an experimental drug treating dementia. The “Devil’s medicine” might kill Ptolemy but it might also recover his memory before he dies. Figuring he has lived long enough, Ptolemy trades whatever days he has left for the chance to remember what’s important to him and get his affairs in order. Once his memory returns, he realizes that includes seeking retribution for the murder of a family member.

Though it takes place in a brutal environment where people get gunned down and Ptolemy rarely leaves his apartment for fear of getting mugged, the novel is more a poignant examination of mortality and how one man is determined to face his end with dignity. Mosley is masterful in getting readers inside Ptolemy’s head, as jumbled as it is at first. Then, as his mind reawakens, we take a journey both painful and sweet through the landmarks of Ptolemy’s life, watching as he decides to take action to right some wrongs, to finally rid himself of regret about things he never did long ago.

Mosley also manages to slip in subtle statements about our current war, how news coverage confuses Ptolemy because he can’t figure out who the enemy is when he at least knew he was fighting Hitler as a soldier during WWII. Sometimes the outside world makes less sense than what’s going on in the old man’s head.

But the novel isn’t political. It’s a meditation on different kinds of love and how it can be found in unexpected places. Through Robyn, Ptolemy is able to find his way back to himself just as he’s ready to let go.

Nerd verdict: Bittersweet Days

Buy The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey from Amazon| B&N| Powell’s| IndieBound

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5 Comments

  • Reply
    Naomi Johnson
    November 15, 2010 at 6:21 am

    I read an interview with Mosley about this book. He said it was inspired by caring for his late mother, who suffered from dementia.

    In the same interview Mosley said something about writing that struck me as a great truth. He was talking about his getting a late start (age 33) as a writer. “If you’re 20 years old and you become a celebrated writer, you may think you deserve it — which is never true. It just happens.”

  • Reply
    Reader#9
    November 15, 2010 at 10:55 am

    Walter Mosely is a great writer. I’ve been picking up his books for years and will continue to do so. Nice to know I’m not alone in my adoration.

  • Reply
    EIREGO
    November 15, 2010 at 12:57 pm

    Oh, maaaaan! I don’t know if I could handle any more books, TV shows or movies dealing with dementia or any variable thereof. My parents both fell victim to this evil freakin’ disease and I get all choked up just thinking about it. Mosely’s great, but I might have to sit this one out.

  • Reply
    Shell Sherree
    November 16, 2010 at 1:27 am

    I have a feeling this would make me sad, but maybe worth it to gain some greater understanding about the subject.

    Sorry to hear about your parents, EireGo. I can’t imagine what you’ve been through and hope I never have to.

    • Reply
      EIREGO
      November 16, 2010 at 12:18 pm

      Yeah, I don’t wish it upon anyone. Thanks for your kind words, Shell.

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