A major literary eventand nothing short of a "tour de force" (The New York Times) by the acclaimed and beloved author.
Marooned in an apartment that overflows with mementos from the past, 91-year-old Ptolemy Grey is all but forgotten by his family and the world. But when an unexpected opportunity arrives, everything changes for Ptolemy in ways as shocking and unanticipated as they are poignant and profound.
Walter Mosley is one of the most versatile and admired writers today. His novels include the New York Times bestsellers Known to Evil and The Long Fall, and the now classic mystery series featuring Easy Rawlins. He lives in New York City.
- Discuss the relationship between Robyn and Ptolemy. What do you think it is about him that brings out such a protective instinct in her? What holes do they manage to fill in each other's lives? In what ways are they both "lost," and how do they help each other to find their way back to themselves?
- Over Robyn's protests, Ptolemy involves himself in a medical case study in an effort to preserve what's left of his brain function and possibly even turn back the damage his dementia has caused. On the bus, he tells Robyn, "I done played the Devil an' beat him at his own game" (p. 131). Why do you think he constantly refers to Dr. Ruben as Satan? What is it about this experience that you think he finds so potentially damning?
- At its core, The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey is one man's meditation over the course of his life as he approaches the end of it. Discuss the ways in which Ptolemy's need to find answers before he dies leads him to participate in the study. Do you think it was solely Robyn's entry into his life, or did other things affect his decision?
- Ptolemy's story is told both through his present circumstances, and in flashbacks to his childhood with his mentor. How did this choice affect your understanding of his life and the novel, if at all?
- "God don't care what they did to you. What he care about is what you did" (p. 63). This is one of many lessons that Coydog imparts to a young Ptolemy before his death. Discuss their relationship. How do you think this statement affected how Ptolemy chose to live his life? In what ways do you think lessons like this may have affected his decision to start the trial medication?
- Ptolemy's nephew, Reggie, plays a significant role throughout the novel despite being murdered early on. How does Reggie's death, and Ptolemy's subsequent investigation into his murder, affect the decisions that Ptolemy makes throughout his last days?
- While Robyn's presence has the most impact on the later days of Ptolemy Grey, two other women, Niecie and Shirley Wring, also play significant roles. Discuss the ways in which they affect his life. In what ways does The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey also illustrate the different kinds of love that a man can feel towards the end of his life? In what ways do you think Shirley in particular helps Ptolemy to want to remember, especially his own treasure, after their meeting at the bank?
- There are many references to Coydog's treasure throughout the book, and the word "treasure" can be seen as a metaphor for other things Ptolemy manages to unearthhis sanity and the identity of Reggie's killer, to name two. What do you think is the greatest treasure that Ptolemy discovers before he passes?
- Discuss the familial relationships that Mosley draws throughout the novel. Do you believe that Niecie and Hilly were initially out to take advantage of Ptolemy? Do you think the author is making any kind of statement here about how society views aging and the issues that come with it? How also does the book use Ptolemy's family situation to illustrate the lows to which poverty can drive people?
- The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey can also be read as a treatise on hope. Discuss how Mosley illustrates this theme throughout the book. How does Robyn give Ptolemy back his hope, and vice-versa?