Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey by Walter Mosley

This book got a lot of praise around release. It was billed as a sort of modern Flowers for Algernon, which I suppose it was. An old man suffering from deep dementia is given a second chance to make things right when a young woman and an experimental drug give him a few week stay of senility. He finds the lost treasure, gets the girl, and brings justice to a murder victim to whom is he related.

The language is good, bordering on superb, particularly in the first half of the book. Mosley’s portrait of “PityPapa” is caring and does a good job of conveying the sense of frustrated befuddlement and fear that goes along with old age and the ravages of diseases like Alzheimer’s. (I suspect.) This is a topic that figures profoundly in my own life, and indeed, in the lives of so many in the first world now; we are all caretakers of the elderly, and many of us destined to become ancient doddering shells, like Ptolemy.

What most of us will not ever get is the old man’s fantasy come true: No super drug will give your mind back, nor restore the mind of that vacant eyed shambler who was once someone you loved. You will not get to right wrongs, and you will almost assuredly not discover a lost treasure that will ease the days of your family. No nubile young beauty will give you her love, and any peace you get before the end of your days will be the grey purgatory of apathetic forgetfulness.

So while I quite appreciated Mosley’s writing, the plotting of the book ended up making me feel cheated; like the author had to resort to cheap tricks to give me an improbable adventure tale, instead of the portrait of aging and mental vacancy to which so many are heir.

The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey is a well written book, but I wish that Mosley had possessed the courage to look into the yawning abyss of mental decay and report back more accurately what I believe he saw.

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