There is a moment repeated for effect in One Last Thing Before I Go that underscores everything wrong with Jonathan Tropper’s sixth novel. Here’s how it goes: our protagonist Silver, “forty-four years old…out of shape, and depressed,” does something not totally vile, but objectionable enough to create conflict. Maybe he bucks social norm or speaks his mind when inappropriate. Each time, whatever person present, such an action provokes the following statement: Jesus, Silver, you are an asshole. This happens over and over and over and over again.
But in most situations, calling someone an asshole doesn’t resolve a conflict. It may provoke introspection or further conversation. Like, you’re being an asshole, and you’re affecting people in ways X, Y, and Z. In One Last Thing Before I Go, however, it’s said with an undercurrent of begrudging kindness, and seems to move the story along.
Not that the accusation is untrue. Drew Silver—always referred to as just Silver, by his father, daughter, ex-wife, everyone really—is most definitely an asshole. I just don’t think assholes deserve three hundred pages devoted to their epic journey from asshole to bigger asshole to biggest asshole to mild asshole.
Silver’s biggest accomplishment in life is having played the drums in a one-hit band called The Bent Daisies. He slept around on his first wife, Denise, and was thereafter absent in the development of his daughter. He lives in an apartment complex catered to similar dipshit fathers called The Versailles. He plays drums in a wedding band (which apparently still exist). He is a loathsome, uninteresting, not-at-all-complex boor.
Ah, but he’s dying. Dying. Ruptured aorta. The overhanging presence of an early death is basically the driving force behind all the action in One Last Thing Before I Go. That Silver is very, very ill causes his ex-wife to reconsider her upcoming wedding, his daughter to re-engage him, his father to take him on a spiritual journey of some crucial life events (bris, bar mitzvah, funeral).
Likewise, Silver’s illness seems to be the kinda-sorta argument for why the reader should keep turning the page. Will he live or will he die?
Ah, but there’s a wrinkle here. What should be a fairly banal, inoffensively dopey journey of one mediocre human being’s weeks-long road to death is not. See, Silver’s not really all that sure he wants to live. So he declines surgery that may repair the damage in his aorta—a surgery that can only be performed by Denise’s husband-to-be, Rich.
“You’d be the one operating?”
“Yes.” He considers Silver for a moment. “Would that be an issue for you? If it is, I could refer—
“I wouldn’t want anyone else.”
“I’m glad to hear it.”
“If I was having the surgery. Which I’m not.”
This back and forth is typical in One Last Thing Before I Go, and never really gets any more interesting or worthwhile.
By foregoing the procedure, Silver starts to have some mini-strokes, and episodes where the barrier between thoughts and speech erodes entirely. He says inappropriate things, telling his wife he misses the way she kissed him post-orgasm (this in a room full of family members, of course). Tropper employs a grating narrative tool to draw this out further, using paragraphs to explain Silver’s most intimate thoughts, then cheekily noting after the fact that, yes, he said those things.
I don’t mean to be snarky here, but it feels like it’s just seeping it out of me. One Last Thing Before I Go seems less like a book than a screenplay—Paramount already bought the rights; JJ Abrams is down to produce—in that every character is just pathetically boring, most of all Silver.
Let’s storyboard One Last Thing Before I Go, for the hell of it, just focusing on Silver.
1. Aimless middle-aged dude finds out he’s going to die.
2. Ah, whatever, he’s cool with it.
3. It being dying, not his life: he makes a vow. Be a better father. Be a better man. Fall in love. Die.
4. Dude learns how to be a better father/man by fucking his ex-wife, shattering his daughter’s trust, and engineering his own near-death by focusing even more on himself than ever.
5. Falls in love with some moody girl in a bookstore and then…(no spoilers!).
How is this already not a movie?
While Silver is dying, the women in One Last Thing Before I Go have it much, much worse. Denise is an emotional wreck because her loser ex-husband is going to die and she’s about to get married and has to reconcile those feelings. Casey is Ivy League–bound but pregnant, having had sex with her older neighbor.
Older men sexing up young women comes up a lot in One Last Thing Before I Go. Silver and his two dudes from The Versailles host some local college girls by the apartment pool, taking them in.
The girls stretch and roll on their chairs, expertly opening the clasps on their bikini tops to avoid tan lines. They swing their legs, they rub lotion into their cleavages, lick their lips, play with their long hair. Jack lifts his Ray-Bans to squint at them, then laughs at the wonder of it all. “God in heaven,” he says.
So that’s creepy, right? Beautiful college women lotioning their breasts by a scummy apartment pool, three older out-of-shape men taking them in. Someone call Brett Ratner in eight years.
I am aware of my tone, and the general negativity of this review. And I feel bad in some ways. I know little of Jonathan Tropper’s writing, and maybe this is just his style. Or maybe this is just a swing and a miss from a very successful novelist. I don’t know.
But, shit, this is a book blog. This isn’t Salon. I’m 23. I haven’t read everything. But I’ve read enough to feel strongly about a book one way or the other, or to pass judgment when something very slight and silly and hollow comes along.