Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey

When a book gets a starred review in Publisher's Weekly, I start to pay attention to it.  When a book gets a starred review in Publisher's Weekly and Booklist, I put it on hold.  When a book gets a starred review in Publisher's Weekly, Booklist, and Kirkus, well, I know exactly what I'll be doing the day that book comes in.  Such was the case with The Last Days of Ptolemy GreyWalter Mosley is a name, I'm embarrassed to admit, that I had never heard until recently.  He has won a Grammy, an O. Henry Award, and a PEN America Lifetieme Achievement Award.  He wrote Devil in a Blue Dress, on which the popular movie of the same name was based.  After reading his latest work, I understand the good reviews, but am baffled about how I've missed him before.

The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey is literary, but manages to simultaneously be cinematic.  I will not be surprised if this is turned into a movie at some point.  It tells the story of Ptolemy Grey, a 91-year-old man suffering from dementia.  His grasp on reality is fading fast when a 17-year-old orphan comes into his life.  She cleans his squallid apartment and, eventually, helps him find a doctor who gives him an experimental drug that cleans his mind.  The cleaned apartment and cleared mind together help Ptolemy work through unresolved matters from the past. 

Many have referenced this as a Faustian morality tale, for Ptolemey knows that taking the medicine from the doctor he calls "The Devil" is likely to kill him.  But to leave it at that is overly simplistic.  It is a morality tale, but it also addresses mortality, the role of family and community, changing societal roles and civil rights over time, and the life one lives inside the mind.  It was a lovely book and I hereby name it a Fine Print starred review.  Doesn't that make you want to check it out?

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