An ancient man living in solitary squalor in Los Angeles is offered an experimental medicine that just might beat back his creeping dementia—and will almost certainly kill him in the process.
At 91, Ptolemy Grey has outlived everyone he ever cared for. His uncle and mentor, Coydog McCann, was lynched back in Mississippi when Li’l Pea was only a child; his much younger wife, Sensia Howard, had a fatal stroke 22 years ago; and as his story opens, he’s summoned to the side of his much-loved son Reggie, his last link with the outside world, killed in a drive-by shooting. Unable to get services from the landlord who’s frustrated that he can’t raise the rent and afraid to go out alone lest he run into Melinda Hogarth, the crazy addict who keeps mugging him, Ptolemy lives amid an unending flood of uncontrolled memories and associations that render his mind as unusable as his clogged toilet. But his life turns around when he meets Robyn Small at Reggie’s wake. An orphan taken in by Ptolemy’s niece Niecie, Robyn has already, at 17, lived through as tempestuous a life as Ptolemy. But she’s emerged from its vicissitudes clear-eyed, tough-minded and eager to help the old man who claims her as a daughter. She cleans and fumigates his reeking apartment, sets up a bank account for the cash he’s socked away and takes him to see Dr. Bryant Ruben, the satanic physician who offers Ptolemy a medical therapy unapproved by the FDA that may improve his memory and his cognition, but at a high price. Robyn is shocked and repelled, but Ptolemy, who’s named after Cleopatra’s father, is eager to get something like his old life back.
Borrowing from Faust, the Iliad and Gran Torino, Mosley (Known to Evil, 2010, etc.) unforgettably transforms Ptolemy’s cacophony of memories into a powerful symphony that makes him “into many men from out of all the lives he had lived through the decades.”