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Book Review: The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey by Walter Mosley (3/5)

10 Mar

I’m not sure why I decided to read this book. A friend liked it on Goodreads but I have a lot of friends who like a lot of books on Goodreads every day, so why this one? Probably because I liked the name Ptolemy. It’s a pretty awesome name you have to admit. Anyway, I”m glad I added it and snagged a copy because I really enjoyed the book.

Cover Image via

Cover Image via

The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey by Walter Mosley

Summary from Goodreads:

Ptolemy Grey is ninety-one years old and has been all but forgotten-by his family, his friends, even himself-as he sinks into a lonely dementia. His grand-nephew, Ptolemy’s only connection to the outside world, was recently killed in a drive-by shooting, and Ptolemy is too suspicious of anyone else to allow them into his life. until he meets Robyn, his niece’s seventeen-year-old lodger and the only one willing to take care of an old man at his grandnephew’s funeral.

But Robyn will not tolerate Ptolemy’s hermitlike existence. She challenges him to interact more with the world around him, and he grasps more firmly onto his disappearing consciousness. However, this new activity pushes Ptolemy into the fold of a doctor touting an experimental drug that guarantees Ptolemy won’t live to see age ninety- two but that he’ll spend his last days in feverish vigor and clarity. With his mind clear, what Ptolemy finds-in his own past, in his own apartment, and in the circumstances surrounding his grand-nephew’s death-is shocking enough to spur an old man to action, and to ensure a legacy that no one will forget.

I won’t lie, it was tempting to give up on this book at first. Ptolemy’s contribution to the narration is really disjointed due to his dementia so I couldn’t follow his train of thought until he started to regain his memory. After that, it was very enjoyable. I was a little bothered by the relationship between Ptolemy and Robyn. It seemed really strange to me and even more strange when Robyn said she’d had a similar experience with another older man before. What about this 17-year-old is so emotionally attractive to an old man? And how is she okay with this? I’ll never understand that.

I thought Ptolemy’s dementia was very credible. One of the books I’m writing deals with a character with Alzheimer’s and Ptolemy fit all of the things I have read about. He also reminded me a bit of my 94-year-old grandpa, who is starting to lose his memory a bit much like Ptolemy. I also thought Ptolemy’s family was very accurately portrayed and I liked that they were all very different from each other. Reggie was the good guy, Neicy was selfish, and Hilly was selfish like his mother. Nina was an idiot and the children were innocent. Maybe not the family everyone wants, but Ptolemy made the best of it.

Shirley Wring was my favorite character. When we met her, she needed money and wasn’t afraid to ask for a favor. She wasn’t a beggar and proved that when she offered to give Ptolemy her ring to ensure she repaid her debt. She was a very positive influence on Ptolemy and a good friend for him to have in his last days. I wish Robyn had liked her more so she could have been around more often. Even though the book was set in LA, it reminded me of my native Detroit at times.

It was hard for me to relate to the characters. I’ve never had to take care of an older relative like Robyn does and I’ve never lost a loved one to an act of violence like Reggie. I’ve never developed a strong bond with an adoptive family member like Roby and Ptolemy had. This book had a lot of elements to me that were very strange but I think that’s what I liked about it. I learned a lot from reading this book. It reminded me a bit of the Clint Eastwood movie Gran Torino which is an amazing movie if you haven’t seen it yet.

I liked the end of the book best and I’m going to talk about why so if you haven’t read this book, don’t read the rest of this paragraph. I liked that Ptolemy achieved his goal. He was able to help his family and use Coy’s money to benefit the black community. He avenged the death of the one man he loved most. He had lived such a long life and was able to end it the way he wanted to instead of cooped up in a bed and not aware of who he was. I think that’s what we all want.

The relationship between Robyn and Ptolemy was the hardest thing for me to wrap my head around. On the surface, it sounds like an Anna Nicole Smith story, but being inside it we know it’s a lot more than that. I think that ‘a lot more’ part is what really got to me. I can understand falling in love quickly, but falling in love with someone 73 years your junior is a bit far. At times, they seemed to have a father/daughter love and at other times it seemed romantic. I thought it was inconsistent. And finding out that Robyn had met another man who had felt the same way about her before was too much for me. I couldn’t wrap my mind around their relationship.

The audiobook I listened to was narrated by Dominic Hoffman. I thought he did an okay job at narrating this book. There wasn’t a lot of variation in voice between the characters, but the book was written in such a way that it was very clear who was talking at all times. I liked that he used a slower cadence to go through the book because Ptolemy was an older man living in a slower world. I would listen to another book narrated by him.

Walter Mosley Image via

Walter Mosley
Image via

As someone who has grandparents older than Ptolemy (94 and 92!), this book spoke to me a lot about remembering our elders and caring for them properly. Since my grandparents live far away from me, I’m not able to see them often but I’m really lucky that my uncle and many of my cousins live close by. I see pictures on Facebook of them having lunch together and I know they get our Christmas presents each year. I wish I could be more like Robyn for them, but I know my Uncle Ken is there.

I also think the book was talking about living up to our promises. Ptolemy made Robyn promise a lot of things to him before he died the same way Coy made Ptolemy make a lot of promises. If either fail to live up to their promises, they’re betraying the generation before them. For promises to work, they have to out-live us.

Writer’s Takeaway: The unreliable narrator is a tricky thing to pull off. I think Mosley does it well. I knew most of the time that Ptolemy was dreaming or confused but I couldn’t always trust what he said because of the confusion. The narration wasn’t completely limited to Ptolemy and that helped it make more sense to the reader. Seeing Ptolemy regain his consciousness was a good touch because it was a relief as a reader to get out of the unreliable string of questions. I liked the balance Mosley struck with this character.

Overall enjoyable even though it wasn’t my favorite. Three out of Five stars.

Until next time, write on.

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Book Review: The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey, By Walter Mosley | Jackie Cangro