I have just finished reading The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey, written by Walter Mosley, and I don't know how, considering the number of books I've read during my adult life, I could have never read anything of his before!
It was my lucky day when I found the New York Times Book review of this exquisite book, which drew me in....
The character study at the heart of THE LAST DAYS OF PTOLEMY GREY (Riverhead, $25.95) is a tour de force. Narrated in an intimate whisper, the story draws us deep into the mind of an old man wandering through the remnants of his memories, searching for the key to an old mystery. Physically fragile and mentally lost, 91-year-old Ptolemy Grey lives alone in shocking squalor, dependent on his great-grandnephew Reggie for the basic necessities of life. Ptolemy is still capable of holding a conversation — but mostly with people from long ago, like Coy McCann, the charismatic friend and mentor who entrusted the young Ptolemy with a stolen fortune and the mission to “take that treasure and make a difference for poor black folks.”
The appearance of a goodhearted and sweet natured young teenaged girl changes his life -- and this story, set in today's downtown area of Los Angeles, becomes a novel described on the fly leaf "that explores the generosity of love, the influence of memory, and our human desire for connection."
It's not a sad book; in fact, I found myself laughing when I read this description of Ptolemy investigating a noise in his little apartment in the middle of the night:
"He peeked through the crack and saw that it was Robyn's moaning. She was naked, on her back, and the boy was above her, his arms at the side of her head, his middle going up an down like the oil-well derricks in Baldwin Hills pumping the oil out of the ground."
What made me laugh was not the sex or the description of the act but the image of those old oil derricks in Baldwin Hills. In the course of visiting my daughter in Los Angeles, I've had occasion to drive between her house on Olympic and the LA Airport via South La Cienega and I know those oil derricks well; in fact, when I was in college back in 1953 those same derricks were there then; I think they are just about the only part of Los Angeles that has not changed over the last 60 years. To find that word picture in Mosely's book meant I really understood what Ptolemy was seeing, and I laugh to think I'll never again be able to visualize the sex act without that image of pumping oil derricks in the midst of it!
Trust me, this is not a racy book. It mostly deals with human emotions, and again, as the cover fly leaf says,"charts new territory in the exploration of the complex tensions at the heart of race in America."
The problem I have with really good books is that I read them too fast and don't take time to savor everything that I should. So this book is definitely on my list to read again...and although I think probably I should not buy it, seeing as I'm trying to stop collecting things in my old age, I'm thinking I just might do this anyway. It's truly a keeper!