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Getting old is not for sissies

“Millard Salter’s Last Day” by Jacob Appel. (Gallery Books, 2017)

 

Millard Salter is a psychiatrist who is turning 75. He has had a long and respectable career. He has had two marriages. The first resulted in divorce and three children. The second marriage provided one more daughter and the tragedy of his wife dying too soon. He is preparing to retire after close to 50 years in his profession. Some of his colleagues are jockeying for his position. Others will just miss him.

On the day of his birthday, he is working through a to-do list. He must visit his three final patients — all of whom are close to death. He needs to try to direct his ne’er-do-well son toward a path to make something of his life. He wants to visit his old neighborhood in Queens to recover his childhood memories; he wants to make a visit to his deceased wife’s grave; he needs to encourage a young woman intern to pursue a career in psychiatry.

His birthday, however, has many surprises in store. At a café near the hospital, there is a gas explosion that might have killed him. An escaped baby lynx that was the pet of a patient attacks him in the hospital. He thinks he is halting a robbery, only to discover that the robbery was a scene from a movie that was being shot in his old neighborhood, and he ruins the film.  

Jacob Appel has an amazing way of getting into the head of his protagonist. Whether he is reliving his childhood in the Jewish immigrant neighborhoods of Queens or fretting about the uselessness of his son’s adult life; hoping to make life and death easier for a terminally ill rabbi or arguing with the supervisor in the cemetery about the fact that a stranger has been buried in the cemetery plot he purchased for himself, next to his wife. The reader understands Millard Salter and comes to care for him. This is not a happy book, but it is a caring one and well worth reading.

Andrea Kempf is a retired librarian and award winning book reviewer who speaks throughout the community on various topics related to books and reading.