Walter Mosley – The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey

 Author: Walter Mosley

Title: The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey
Published: November 2010
Publisher: Riverhead
Length: 277pages
Genre: Fiction
Why I picked it up: Liked the title
Rating: 3.5 stars
Challenges: 100+  
Buy: Barnes and Noble | Chapters | Check your local bookstore!

Over the past year or so, I’ve found myself appreciating novels such as this one more than I ever have before. I used to find these books dry and uncreative and dull, dull, dull but now I am enjoying them (oh, growing up. I never could have predicted what an impact maturity would have on my reading habits! ;P).  By ‘these books’, I am referring to stories centred on complex family dramas and problems of the common person (hah). I think I like reading about people nowadays because it helps me to observe and/or understand people in the real world; the kind of people who I would normally never interact with, such as the main characters of this novel: a 91 year old black man who has experiences I could never imagine and a tough teenage black girl who gets nervous around white people who form a unique relationship. I learn about other people, experience situations I will never encounter in real life and get to peak into stranger’s lives, getting some sort of understanding of why. Even though the characters aren’t real, I know that people like them do exist somewhere and that’s what draws me into the story. I also just like reading about old people, to be blunt. I think it’s interesting to peer so far ahead into the future, thinking that one day, hopefully, I will be an old person just like that, living out the last of my days.

Now, onto the contents of the book! The story focuses on the very elderly Ptolemy Grey and his efforts to regain his failing memory in the last days of his life (hence the title…I really liked the title, it’s the sort of thing I fall for). This leads to, obviously, many snapshots of memories throughout the novel. These memories are what I liked most about this story. I love the idea of an old Ptolemy reflecting on his life and what events and people were important to him, what had an impact on him. I loved reading about this character experiencing these memories he had tried to recall for so long, and then finally be able to reflect and realize them. A lot of the memories are bittersweet, poignant, melancholic, stirring, thoughtful, all of those lonely words. I ate those up, those bits of memories. Short stories within a story.

I preferred the character of Ptolemy over Robyn (sweet old man character over tough teenager any day, thanks, haha), but I did like what she added to the story (I mean, aside from her obvious main role as one of the characters who creates the story). I was interested to see how she acted in front of an old man vs. how she would act with her boyfriend vs. how she acts in the street (I just used three tenses there, huh). This sort of thing intrigues me because I generally act the same in front of all sorts of people. It still shocks me when I see how people behave when I working with them and how they behave outside of work. I’m trying to understand that better. Gangsta Robyn vs. sweet Robyn vs. hurt teenage girl Robyn…the layers, I’m trying to understand the layers, I suppose.

Three more minor notes. There was lots and lots of slang and dialects. Every character pretty much spoke in one. Usually this sort of thing drives me crazy, but I barely noticed it in Mosley’s writing. Everything felt very natural. Another interesting style bit was that mostly every black character had a different skin tone description; they were never just ‘black’.  If it was white people being described differently each time (olive, peach, snow white, etc.) I probably wouldn’t have even noticed. I guess that says a lot more about me than the writing, though I’m not quite sure what…Final note: I had never heard of the author before, but since his name was bigger than the title I figured he must be somewhat well-known. I looked him up, and apparently he’s best known for his mystery series! Fun tidbit for you there. I never would’ve guessed it.

I did like this book; I enjoyed it greatly while I was reading it (clearly it gave me lots to think about!) and I was planning on giving it four stars (plan to buy) but by the end of it…I’m not sure. The story seemed to lose whatever it was that I loved about it. It just didn’t grab me in a way that most books I plan to buy do. What a vague conclusion. Still, I recommend this book, I suppose, but don’t hold out for a fabulous ending! (I think it was the ending that killed it. I can’t stand a bad ending; they ruin all the good feelings I had about what came before.)