Day 13: The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey by Walter Mosley
Ptolemy Grey, a 91-year-old Black man, is suffering from the early stages of dementia. After the death of his primary caregiver, Robyn Small, a 17-year-old family acquaintance, comes forward to help him. She challenges his hoarding and hermit existence. As Robyn tries to get medical treatment for Ptolemy, she inadvertently brings him to a Mephistophelean doctor who offers him an experimental drug that will give him lucidity for a short period of time, lucidity which Ptolemy desperately craves so he can get his affairs in order. Think of Flowers for Algernon for dementia sufferers.
Ptolemy is a character who will stay with the reader long after the last chapter has been read. He is a wise, gentle soul who lives by the simple truths he was taught by his mentor, Coydog McCann. Some of these life lessons he passes on to Robyn. Even though he is frail in body and increasingly feeble in mind, he struggles against injustice and tries to live like a rich man whom Coydog defined as "the man [who can] live in his own skin."
Much of Ptolemy's life is narrated via flashbacks as he increasingly lives in his past, especially the memorable people and life-shaping events in it. Various racial issues are addressed since Ptolemy and his family were not always treated fairly by Whites, but members of Ptolemy's family are not portrayed as totally innocent either. Characters are realistic and neither demonized nor sanctified.
It is the portrayal of Ptolemy's thought processes that struck this reader. His thoughts are fragmented as one would expect in someone suffering from his medical condition, but gradually the reader can construct the pivotal events in his life and thereby understand the emotions that colour his life.
This book has it all - suspense, historical accuracy, a memorable protagonist, and themes applicable to contemporary times. It would take a very unfeeling person lacking in empathy not to be moved by this novel.