One Last Thing Before I Go has a premise problem, or really, two premise problems. Maybe even three. The point is, that no matter how impressive Mr. Tropper’s command of the language, or how deftly he characterizes the main players in this family drama, if the reader can’t see his or her way into accepting the novel’s premises (and there is no reason they should, other than willful suspension of disbelief) then the novel can’t help but feel like nothing more than a mildly diverting amble toward a pre-ordained outcome. Tropper can try all he likes to justify his and his character’s choices, and go so far as to introduce some last-minute uncertainty in the form of a wishy-washy ending, but he can’t redeem the story.
Silver is a divorced father still living, if you could call it living, off the royalties for the one-hit wonder he wrote and played drums on years before. He was a bad husband and a bad father, and he knows his wife and daughter are right to want nothing to do with him. (Note: You’ll just have to accept that Silver is a bad dude from Tropper telling you so, as there’s very little evidence presented for that conclusion, as if the author was afraid of alienating readers by making his central character too much of a bad guy.) So Silver is doubly surprised when his daughter arrives at his crummy apartment complex to tell him she’s pregnant, both because she’s 18 and headed for Princeton in the fall, and because she chose to tell him first. Her reason? She didn’t care about disappointing him.
Since this is a contemporary novel, set in New York, the answer to Casey’s problem seems obvious (even if fiction is still a little gun-shy about depicting women choosing abortion.) But when Silver and Casey are waiting at the clinic, he has an attack and wakes up in a hospital bed, where his ex-wife’s new fiance, a doctor, explains that he has a leaky aorta which will kill him if he doesn’t opt for emergency surgery. That’s when Silver, for no particularly justifiable reason other than to set the plot into motion, informs his family and few remaining friends that he’d rather just let his heart give out when it will.
This is, of course, ridiculous, as the other characters never seem to tire of telling Silver. It’s beyond obvious that Silver should have the surgery, and just about as obvious that eventually, the events of the novel will lead to him making that decision. Casey’s decision is far more subject to possibility, but of course Tropper seems so uncomfortable with a full discussion of that issue that he places far more narrative weight on Silver’s ridiculous self-created predicament.
There are some nice set-pieces along the way, most involving the far more intriguing side characters, especially Silver’s father Ruben, a rabbi who decides to drag his son along as he performs Jewish rituals to show his son all life has to offer. And Tropper is talented at probing the male mind, exposing its various insecurities and absurdities and laying bare all of its delusions.
But none of this is enough to overcome Tropper’s inability to make the reader see Silver’s decision as a real choice and not a mechanism. Combined with the author’s lamentable reticence on both Silver’s bad behavior and Casey’s thought process, One Last Thing Before I Go becomes a missed opportunity, a waste of its author’s talent.