“There’s nothing more depressing than waking up in your shoes.”
That about sums up Silver’s life. He had it good once. Once. He and his bandmates wrote a hit that still gets airplay on the classic rock stations and the wedding and Bar Mitzvah circuit. He had a wife he loved and a daughter he worshipped. Unfortunately, life for Silver hasn’t been a two-way street. After his wife left him — once she realized he’d never emerge from his attempts to rekindle the magic of that one wonderful song — it’s been a slow downward spiral.
Now, at 44, Silver’s lonely, out of shape, obviously unhappy, and living in a residence hotel off some interstate in New Jersey. And that’s where we find him at the beginning of “One Last Thing Before I Go,” Jonathan Tropper’s just-released novel (Dutton, $26.95).
Tropper’s last go-round, “This is Where I Leave You,” set in a family’s childhood home during the weeklong shiva mourning period following the patriarch’s death, was laugh-out-loud funny and hard to top as far as premise goes. Put a family that can hardly stand each other in a house for a week, and watch hilarity ensue.
How else would he be able to attract such names as Zac Efron, Jason Bateman and Goldie Hawn to the upcoming film treatment?
Tropper’s new novel is more of a downer, but it certainly is far more poignant. Early in, Silver is feeling his age. The bulk of his income and what can be called his love life are one and the same: His weekly visits to the local sperm bank. Even the broken, lonely women he picks up at bars and brings back to his apartment want only to snuggle.
So when he gets a visit from his 18-year-old daughter, he’s got reason to celebrate. Casey has hardly spoken to him in years. Their relationship, especially since the divorce, has been tenuous at best. But then she pops the big news: She’s pregnant. He’s overjoyed that his daughter has come to him for support, for help with her decision on what to do with this cluster of cells that will eventually turn into a baby. But even that’s not all it’s cracked up to be: “Why’d you come to me?” he asks her.
Her response: “I care less about letting you down.”
Silver drives her to the appointment nonetheless. But as they’re waiting, something happens. He blacks out. When he wakes up, his surgeon — the man his ex-wife is supposed to marry in a week, incidentally — gives him the bad news. He’s got a problem with his heart. Get a quick surgery, you’ll be up and at ‘em in no time, Rich says, otherwise you’re going to die.
I’ll take death, Silver says.
And that’s where the fun begins. Freed from the constraints of living, Silver starts to rebuild his relationship with his daughter. He begins to say what’s on his mind — mostly because he also suffered a series of small strokes that took away the filter in his brain that shuts people up. Most important, the spark that had made him a star finally starts to come back. He even works up the nerve to ask out the cute folk musician he’s been stalking in the bookstore for well over a year.
He also realizes that people care about him. Get the surgery, says Casey. Get the surgery, say his two friends who live in the hotel. Get the surgery, says his ex-wife.
His father, a rabbi who has watched his son’s fall and been helpless to do anything about it, issues a challenge: Come to four lifecycle events — a bris, a Bar Mitzvah, a wedding, a death — and see if that doesn’t change things?
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to guess whose wedding Silver crashes. Things have to get worse before they get better, right? But things are starting to get better. Apart from the fact that he could die at any moment, anyway. So if he chooses life, does it all come crashing down again? These are the big questions Tropper is asking.
Tropper has a lot of characters to deal with, a lot of messed-up heads to get inside. Silver has screwed up the lives of a lot of people in his relatively short time on earth. But the author does so deftly and without making the subject matter too heavy. He doesn’t give us the belly laughs of his previous work, but he does examine the philosophical questions of life and death that elevates the novel from flavor of the week to something with a hopefully longer shelf life.
And while I won’t give away whether Silver eventually gives in and lets Rich perform the surgery, life sometimes has a way of making those decisions for us.