A Quest for Justice
Written for Library Thing Early Reviewer
The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey opens with an “Afterward”, which explains the whole story without giving anything away---it is the key that unlocks the story’s meaning without cracking open the door. It’s a love letter. Don’t pass by it without a glance as you enter the novel and be sure to revisit at the end, when you will realize the door is made of glass.
The allegory of Ptolemy Usher Grey is a rich portrait of opposites. A gentle, muddled old man, hidden in the fog of dementia, caught in the grip of undifferentiated time, is transformed into a shrewd superhero, a hybrid coydog like his childhood mentor Coy McCann, undaunted by violence in his crusade to save his extended family. The experimental drug responsible for the change is doled out by the devil (Dr. Ruben) in a Faustian bargain to win the body, if not the soul, of the gambler wagering for a cure. Robyn, a sweet bird, embodiment of love in her role as Ptolemy’s young caregiver, morphs into a tigress in a flash in the face of a threat. “He had known women like this before, wild and violent, sweet and loving.” This wonderful characterization of Robyn draws the reader along, anxious to learn what will happen to her and Ptolemy.
The novel, which paints a grim picture of a ninety-one year old man living in the squalor created by his advanced dementia and lack of attention by family or friends, does much more as it gradually reveals itself as a crusade against past and present (2006) horrors of racism and a quest for justice. The story has all the elements of truth that keep a reader interested and wide-eyed to the end. It twists and turns unexpectedly, a delightful surprise in a tale of one’s last days. It presents an accurate, heart-wrenching account of the present day lifestyle of disadvantaged black Americans living under the long shadow of slave history.
At age 58, the only child of a father the author has called “a black Socrates” and Jewish mother originally from Eastern Europe, Mr. Mosley brings a valuable perspective to his art. His mother instilled in her son an interest in the classics at a young age. He skillfully incorporates into Ptolemy Grey symbolism gleaned from western tradition, as well as metaphor and tickling word play (the Tickle River courses through the novel as a significant historical element, a dead serious medicine, and a bit of humor and eroticism.)
I spent a few pleasant hours researching the puzzle he has designed---the one he perhaps intended and the one I might merely imagine, nevertheless a joyful activity to those of us who like to peel away layers of meaning to delve into an author’s imagination.
Title: The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey
Author: Walter Mosley
Imprint / publisher: Riverhead / Penguin
Format: Advance reader’s copy
Length: 277 p.
Publication date: November 2010