Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey by Walter Mosley

What is it about writers who unapologetically romanticize pedophilia? Vladimir Nabokov ( Lolita), Gabriel Garcia Marquez (just about every book he wrote), and now Walter Mosley’s The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey. I "get" the literary nuances of ageless, innocent love, but when it is set in the context of lechery, it is illicit, immoral, and icky.

OK, OK. Mosley’s book isn’t about pedophilia, but he is 91-years old and openly lusting after a 17-year-old girl. Because Penguin Books sent The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey to me, supposedly in hopes that I would read and promote it on my blog, I felt compelled to see past my personal disgust with that very small piece of the story line.

Ptolemy Grey has outlived his friends, is infirmed by his age, deep into dementia, pretty much deserted by his family, and living (if you want to call it that) in a filthy, bug-and-rat infested apartment in the inner city. Enter the 17-year-old orphan, Robyn, who is asked by Ptolemy’s niece to check on Ptolemy. She cleans his house, then moves in with him, cooks his meals, and eventually pushes him into taking part in an experimental anti-dementia drug test. Guess what, the drug makes him regain some of his mental and physical vigor.

Then there’s the stolen gold coins passed down to Ptolemy by his childhood friend, Coy-Dog, the most colorful and interesting character in the book. Ptolemy, recently "smarter," decides he wants to leave his considerable wealth (gold coins) to the 17-year-old, and he also wants to kill a guy that he suspects offed his favorite nephew in a drive-by shooting. (Apparently no one walks up and shoots anyone anymore.) And he has to do it all soon because the medication is wearing off and he’s starting to feel his age again.

Yes, The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey is more poetic and well written than I’ve made it sound. Walter Mosley can spin a yarn, and there were parts of  the book that I really loved, including the sweet and innocent parts of the relationship between Ptolemy and Robyn. But there were also some shallow characters and dead-end plot lines, and I really, really had a hard time getting past the ickiness of Ptolemy lusting after the young girl.  It felt like Mosley was acting out some impotency redemption fantasy, or perhaps he figured if it worked for Vladimir Nabokov and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, it would work for him and, in fact, it just might.

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