Among Jonathan Tropper’s many gifts is the ability to make his readers care about passive male protagonists who have no business being liked. In THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU, Tropper’s rude 2009 novel, the recently divorced Judd Foxman rarely loses his browbeaten look as he and the rest of his family sit shiva for his deceased father. When Judd gets angry, his reactions are extreme, such as when he catches his wife having sex with his shock-jock radio boss. Otherwise, he’s content to remain detached and toss off mordant wisecracks. Yet, we like Judd despite his sarcasm and moments of cruelty. He may not get along with all the members of his family, but even someone as jaded as him recognizes the importance of love and forgiveness after a death in the family gives them definable features.
"Tropper’s latest work is proof that, in the hands of a good writer, there’s no such thing as men’s fiction or women’s fiction. There’s only good fiction. And ONE LAST THING BEFORE I GO is commercial fiction of the highest caliber."
Tropper pulls off the same trick in his newest novel, ONE LAST THING BEFORE I GO. This time, the divorced protagonist with the perpetual hangdog expression is Drew Silver. When Silver was in his 20s, he was the drummer for a rock band called The Bent Daisies. They were a one-hit wonder, but that one hit was so huge that the lead singer decided to leave the band for a solo career. The remaining band members were left to pursue lives of relative anonymity. Silver, now 44 and a tinnitus sufferer, makes his money these days by playing weddings, collecting royalty checks and, once a week, donating sperm to a local fertility clinic.
He lives at the Versailles, an apartment complex off the interstate and home mainly to divorced, middle-aged men. His ex-wife, Denise, is a week away from marrying Rich Hastings, a respected surgeon. Even more dispiriting to Silver is a visit he receives from his 18-year-old daughter, Casey. She’s off to Princeton in the fall, but when she shows up at the Versailles one day, she surprises her father with the news that she’s pregnant. She asks him to take her to Early Intervention to get an abortion. When he asks her why she came to him and not to her mother, she says, “I care less about letting you down.”
While Silver chats with Casey in the waiting room, the tinnitus in his left ear begins to “crackle like a fire.” The noise recedes, only to be replaced by silence. He closes his eyes in an attempt to relax. When he opens them, he’s in a hospital, with Denise, Casey and Rich by his side. Rich, in his role as Dr. Hastings, says that Silver has a tear in his aorta and needs emergency surgery. Without the surgery, Rich tells Silver, he will soon die. Silver declines the operation, not wanting to drift through several more decades of loneliness. He doesn’t want to die, he explains, but “I’m just not sure I want to live.” The bulk of the novel chronicles Silver’s attempts to act like a better father and to find meaning in what has been, for 44 years, an undistinguished life.
If you’ve read a Tropper novel before, then the story elements here will be familiar to you. The profanity is frequent and often inventive. Many of the characters, the women as well as the men, speak in one-liners. There’s divorce and illness and violence and topless co-eds and heart-to-heart talks between men who have been burned by life, albeit largely from fires they were responsible for setting.
But what you might not expect from this master of the male-bonding novel is the sweetness. For all the vulgarity and sarcasm here, there’s a surprising tenderness to some of the writing. Many of Silver’s conversations with Casey are hard-edged and bitter, but some are disarmingly moving. His later scenes with Denise are succinct, bittersweet depictions of an estranged couple’s lingering love. And the book has one of the most beautiful endings I’ve ever read in a mainstream novel. Tropper’s latest work is proof that, in the hands of a good writer, there’s no such thing as men’s fiction or women’s fiction. There’s only good fiction. And ONE LAST THING BEFORE I GO is commercial fiction of the highest caliber.
Reviewed by Michael Magras on August 30, 2012
One Last Thing Before I Go