Drew Silver is one of modern literature’s more pathetic losers. And that’s before he discovers an aortic dissection is about to kill him.
The good news for Silver — which is what everyone, even his daughter, calls him — is that surgery can save his life. There’s a bit of bad news, and part of it is that the procedure would be performed by Silver’s ex-wife’s fiancé. The other is that Silver, who is 44, doesn’t want the surgery.
The sad-sack hero of Jonathan Tropper’s affecting, darkly funny new novel has already given up when the novel opens. Plagued by tinnitus, regret and ennui, he’s spent the last seven years and four months of his life in a state of numb inaction after a divorce from Denise (his fault) and the alienation of his daughter Casey (also his fault).
Once upon a time, he was a big deal: the drummer and co-songwriter in a one-hit wonder band, The Bent Daisies, that broke up when the front man decided to go solo. His leftover claims to that fame are occasional recognition and the residual checks from the song that made it big: “...[H]e was blinded by the flare of fleeting, accidental stardom, and when it was over, he never stopped seeing spots.”
These days, Silver gets gigs as a drummer at weddings. Denise is about to get remarried, and Casey, 18, heading for Princeton and valedictorian of her class, has just told Silver that she’s pregnant.
But Silver, after the ministroke that reveals his condition, realizes he hasn’t felt so alive in years. His wife begins to recognize the man she once loved, and his daughter seems to want him around. He sets goals: Be a better father, a better man, fall in love, then die.
He spends the bulk of the novel thinking of the things he wishes he’d said or done — or could still do — and accidentally saying those things out loud in front of the relevant people. Secrets are revealed, often to the service of plot development, and unkind truths are told.
Despite the many new ways Silver discovers to disappoint and bewilder his extended family, Tropper convincingly portrays him as sympathetic and even likable. His relationship with Casey is complicated: She’s been wounded by her father’s absence, and she’s not afraid to hurt him back. But she’s also willing to love him and eager to let him be the dad she needs. To the author’s credit, Denise is not a wench; her husband-to-be is altogether decent, and Silver’s father, a rabbi, and mother are wise and lovely.
Silver has no one but himself to blame for his dysfunction — and he does.
During a trip to the beach with his daughter: “It would have been so easy, he thinks, to do things like this; take her on drives, to the beach, to a movie. Anything. It’s not like he was busy traveling the world. He was right here, and nowhere to be found.”
Despite his family’s pleading, Silver doesn’t want to try to save himself because he can’t imagine going back to his former life. He’s a frustrating man. But Tropper has created a character so hapless and endearing and a story so compelling that the reader can’t help but take the journey with Silver — no matter where it leads.
Hannah Sampson is a Miami Herald staff writer.