Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey by Walter Mosley

I briefly mentioned in an earlier post that I lived with my grandparents for the last few years of my grandpa's life.  He was suffering from Alzheimer's so my husband and I moved in to help my grandma keep him home as long as possible. It was, by far, the most difficult and emotionally draining years of my life.  I was only in my mid-twenties at the time, but I felt like I'd aged decades during the two years I lived there. My first few months caregiving were the worst because Papa would still would have lucid moments where he understood what was happening to him. It was just so incredibly sad.

I've never run across a description of dementia in fiction.  Of course, there are tons of non-fiction books dedicated to the study of Alzheimer's, how to be a caregiver for these patients, what to do when sundowning hits, the works.  But, I've never read a novel that could do this phenomena justice.

Until I picked up The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey by Walter Mosley.

Ironically, the only other book I've read by Mosley is The Man in My Basement which I read about five years ago while sitting next to Papa in the emergency room.  That book left a bad taste in my mouth and I'm not sure if it's because of my circumstances or the disturbing plot. Probably everything one reads while sitting in the hospital is tainted by that experience.

I picked up this book at a co-worker's suggestion and could not put it down.  Ptolemy, known as Pitypapa to his family, is old and suffering from severe dementia. He still lives at home and depends on his grandnephew to check up on him and take him to the grocery store. But then, his grandnephew is killed in a drive-by and the rest of his family is not so trustworthy.  Finally, Robyn comes along.  One of Ptolemy's family members took her in and she realizes that she is in a precarious situation.  However, she sees Pitypapa's problems far outweigh her own and rushes to his aid.  She cleans his apartment, takes him on his errands, becomes a true ally.  Eventually, she moves in with him and it is a mutually advantageous situation.

Throughout all of this we can see Ptolemy coming in and out of lucidity.  There are memories of his boyhood and dark secrets that keep attempting to bubble up, but the disease locks them in a separate room.  But then, in a Faustian turn, a medical trials doctor offers him a drug that will restore his memory. . .for a price.

Mosley describes Ptolemy with such compassion.  Parts of this book brought tears to my eyes because I could see my grandpa in his confusion.  But, what I liked best was that this is NOT an "issues" novel. It's not about the plight of Alzheimer's patients or elder abuse or caregiving, although it touches on these things. Rather, it has an absorbing plot complete with dark secrets, a touch of romance, lost treasure, and vengeance. Ptolemy Grey is definitely not your average hero.  And this is not a book like anything else you've encountered.  I guarantee you'll be thinking about it for days after you've finished it.

<I checked this book out of my library.>

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