What if You Knew It Was Your Last Day to Live?
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We are asked to do a very curious thing in Jacob M. Appel’s book Millard Salter’s Last Day (245 pages, Gallery Books). We are asked to join a man on his seventy-fifth birthday from his early morning rise through the late evening who has planned to make it his last day of life. He plans on taking his life at the end of the day.
I live in a very auspicious place. Quietly, sitting in an ordinary residential neighborhood is a Tibetan Buddhist center just two blocks from my house. It is normal to see monks stroll down the sidewalks. I even once bought a set of golf clubs from a monk who was raising money to break a few of his monk soccer mates (not kidding) out of China. A few years ago, a very holy relic was acquired by the center, and they built a beautiful stupa and walking grounds for it. The center announced in our little local newspaper that with the arrival of the relic, our little town was now under special holy protection. Not long after that, the Dalai Lama came on an official public visit and spoke to not only a large crowd outdoors at the center, but also to the small throng of us neighbors. It was a very funny thing to walk out of your door with your dog and in a few minute’s stroll to find yourself in the presence of the Dalai Lama. The one thing he said that stuck to me was near the end of his talk and that was there were seven and a half billion people on the earth which means there are seven and a half billion perspectives. The talk was on the importance of kindness, and his statement intended to remind us of the equality among humans and the need to respect each other—even if their point on the diamond was very far from your point.
Books like Jacob M. Appel’s Millard Salter’s Last Day I believe are crucial if anyone wants to open their mind to other points on the diamond. The writing is intensely personal and at times risky, as Appel’s writing allows us to follow some of Millard Salter’s honest, but sometimes terrible, thoughts. What keeps one from feeling totally squeamish when Salter admits his non-politically correct thoughts is that he too sees his mistake and admits they’re bad, and even on his last day, you see him still trying to grow and evolve and become a better person. It is a fascinating idea that a man who is planning on committing suicide at the end of the day would still correct his assumptions, try a little harder to be compassionate, and to even find within himself a primal want to live.
One thing I particularly loved about the book was that our hero was seventy-five. So often in our culture, we marginalize older people into sexless side characters of very little depth. So much of western literature is based on the lovers, and the lovers are always young. Appel manages to deliver us a hero with sexuality intact at seventy-five. The book is unflinching regarding the complex aspects of love and sex in older age with infirmity, death, dashed hopes, and a very long history from which to delve. I found it touching, sometimes frightening, and enlightening to be inside a seventy-five-year-old man’s mind as he navigates his last day and ponders over his life. Millard Salter is a lover, and perhaps the only way I could square his need or want to commit suicide was to cast it in a Shakespearian light in that only the romantic could ever spend a whole day knowing it was their last.
If you are expecting a book that deals with a man who plans on committing suicide to be a morbid book—this book is not. Millard Salter is wry, sexual, mischievous, but not morose. He rides a very fine line between being a jerk and a good man. His last day is wild and weird, and one will have to suspend belief quite a bit; however, the absurd moments never harm the intimate ride inside Millard’s mind.
The suicide aspect was, at least for me, the most difficult, and as I knew I was reading this book to be reviewed, I had to suspend my personal beliefs on the matter as I read it. I am glad I did, as the book does offer many surprises and perspectives on the matter (and of course, I am not going to tell you what happens in the end). I think one can become crystallized into their own beliefs and assumptions and that can harden us towards other people who have different views than our own.
Much of fiction is very much standardized and for a good reason—people love the story about how the boy gets the girl—even against all sorts of odds. Millard Salter’s Last Day is in a very odd way that very same story—only the boy is seventy-five, and well the girl (or in Millard’s case, girls) are very unusual objects of desire—very far from the innocent, young girls with strict fathers or ogre boyfriends they secretly want to escape. This book was weird and at times difficult; however, it was never boring, and at many points, I could not put it down. If you are in the mood for something oddly light, weird, sexy, and dark, then this is a must-read.
Millard Salter's Last Day by Jacob M. Appel
Publisher: Gallery Books
Photo Source: Simon & Schuster