“One Last Thing Before I Go”
by Jonathan Tropper
read by John Shea
Published by Penguin Audio
Approx. 8.5 hours
I wasn’t really sure what I was getting into when I picked this audiobook to be my next to hear. Sure the synopsis on the cover tells of Drew Silver, a drummer formerly with a one hit wonder band, who is struggling to get by after a failed career and a failed marriage, is confronted with a life or death situation opts out of the life portion. I thought really I was going to hear an audiobook about a former rock star’s romp through his days as if they were his last. I couldn’t have been any more wrong. What this book turned out to be is an emotional romp through life and its many surprises.
Let me start out by talking about the reader, John Shea, his voicing of Silver, subject of all this life affirming novel, is beautiful. Silver is pretty much a laid back person, who knows he’s screwed up a good chunk of his life and is ready to move on, but Silver has a deeper part of his psyche that John Shea is able to bring out in this performance. Shea not only brings Silver to full three-dimensional life but is also able to deliver the audiobook and all its characters to the listener in such a dynamic that pulls them into the story and won’t let them escape. All the emotions in this book, which pretty much runs the gamut of human emotions, are brought to life through the expert vocalizations of John Shea.
The surprising part of this book is the use of wit and humor to get through some of the toughest events that are emotionally trying. While the humor is not laugh out loud funny, although, there are some of those moments, it is just the right amount to make these characters come to life and be much more real and, well, human. Jonathan Tropper is able to create the dialogue that never seems fake or contrived. All conversations are very real and when dealing with the situations the characters are put through feel very natural.
Some examples of the emotional ups and downs are when one of Silver’s friends admits he’s been going through chemo without telling anyone for weeks and then wishing he had a relationship with his son, Silver and friends take him on a road trip to try to take amends. On the road trip they find out the reason the friend is estranged from his son is that he slept with his son’s fiance, now wife. All the twists and turns in the story come out to an ending that leaves you guessing and yet feeling fulfilled.
The gist of the story is that Silver, former drummer for the Bent Daisies, is struggling through life. The Bent Daisies had one hit, which Silver wrote, and then the lead singer strikes out for a solo career and becomes very successful. In the meantime, Silver gets by, barely, on his royalty checks, playing in wedding bands and for bar/bat mitzvahs, and by donating sperm for scientific experiments.
Silver also has failed at being a husband and father and after 15 years of living as a divorce in an apartment full of mopey older divorced men, he’s become pretty cynical. His wife is about to marry a man who Silver can’t seem to make himself hate, he tries, but he knows this guy, a Surgeon is good for his ex-wife and daughter. His daughter, Casey, who has never really been a part of his life, due to his own fault, comes to him in a time of need. She’s 18 and pregnant. She tells him before she tells her mother, because she cares less about letting him down. After some heartfelt discussion, he agrees to be there for her no matter what decision she makes.
Casey decides on an abortion and Silver takes her to the clinic, just as they are filling out papers and waiting, Silver suffers a stroke. Before I talk more about the story, I have to say that Jonathan Tropper’s description and all of Silver’s inner dialogue are pure genius in giving an outsider a view of what is going on in Silver’s mind at the time. In fact all through the book Silver’s inner dialogue (which due to the stroke become accidentally spoken aloud) are beautiful descriptions of the past present and future for Silver.
Silver wakes in the hospital with Casey worrying over him. As he awakens the doctor, who also happens to be his ex-wife’s fiance, explains that he has a tear in his aorta and that the stroke was caused by the clot from this tear loosening and hitting the brain. Silver needs an operation to repair the tear or he will die soon. Silver says that’s all fine, but he won’t be taking the surgery. This is when everything goes haywire. Silver begins voicing all his thoughts aloud, constantly stating his fears and regrets aloud. Silver decides to make the best of the rest of his short life, but the rest of his family are set to convince him to get the surgery. Silver’s father, a Rabbi, asks why does he choose death, to which Silver replies, “It’s not that I choose death, it’s just that I don’t choose life.”
Through some strange misadventures and life affirming events Silver finds what in his life he’s been missing, and not until the very end do we find out whether or not he will take the surgery and even then it’s an insightful end. Poignant, witty, heartbreaking and uplifting all at the same time is what makes this book a great read.