None of us will make it out of this life alive, as the saying goes, and 44-year-old Drew Silver is acutely aware of this. In fact, he can hear the ticking of the clock a bit more loudly than the rest of us: Silver has woken up in the hospital to the news that there is a tear in his aorta and if he does not have surgery, he will die.
For many reasons, he decides he will not have the surgery.
Soon, Silver inhabits a new world where he feels mostly fine but is acutely aware that the end is coming, and where novelist Tropper can deftly explore life and love, regret and second chances in middle age.
Life has not been easy for Silver in the past decade. He was once the drummer in a one-hit-wonder band and, for a moment, lived like a rock star. Now he plays drums in a wedding band. He was once happy and filled with easy love for his wife and young daughter. Now he is divorced and living alone, watching his ex-wife prepare for her upcoming wedding and his daughter deal with an unplanned pregnancy. He feels as though he has failed everyone, including his parents, "wondering, not for the first time, what sort of quiet death his father dies every time he looks at him."
He tells his father that it is not that he wants to die, as much as "I'm just not sure I want to live."
With the knowledge that each moment may be his last, Silver begins to see his life clearly. Most notably, he speaks his regrets out loud and pines for all he's lost. The sincerity with which he apologizes to his daughter for being an absent father is palpable. The love he still feels for his ex-wife is heartbreaking. He "rolls out of bed with a new energy; not happy or sad, but attuned to the universe in a way he's never been before."
Silver never does move very far from the clichéd down-on-his-luck, divorced guy stereotype. He and his divorced friends live in a drab apartment complex and spend their long days watching college women swim in the pool and making donations at the local sperm bank. They drink too much. They are, says Tropper, "brothers in disgrace." But the book's strong plot and collection of tender moments move straight through those clichés and into interesting territory as Silver lives with the impact his decision has on his family and friends.
Much like life itself, "One Last Thing Before I Go" is at once deep and thoughtful, light and silly, clichéd yet original. In the end, Tropper reminds us, to really be alive means that we must choose to be so every day.
Kim Schmidt has reviewed books for American Way Magazine, the Chicago Sun Times, and the Christian Science Monitor. She lives in Illinois.