Reviewed by Ekta R. Garg
November 8, 2017
Genre: Mainstream fiction
Release date: November 7, 2017
Rated: Bypass it
A man plans to commit suicide but decides to spend the day having last conversations with those closest to him. He interacts with family and colleagues, friends and acquaintances, and reflects on whether his final decision really is the best one. Author Jacob M. Appel presents a book that seems less like a story and more like a string of incidents in the dismal novel Millard Salter’s Last Day.
Millard Salter grew up in a New York City no one seems to remember anymore. Celebrities, neighborhood haunts, even the lingo people use has changed. Of course, things can change a lot in 75 years, including a person’s health. That’s why Millard has decided to take his health into his own hands. Before he gets diagnosed with a terminal illness or suffers a fall or any other ailment senior citizens usually face, he’s going to kill himself. And his 75th birthday seems like a good day for it.
Of course, Millard can’t just commit suicide without checking in with the other people in his life first. He arrives at work at St. Dymphna’s Hospital where runs the psychiatry department only to find out a lynx is on the loose and the woman he can’t stand has heard a rumor about him retiring and wants his job. At lunch with Lysander, his 43-year-old unemployed, he fails to impart any meaningful life principles. He even musters up the courage to call on his ex-wife after more than decades and gets an earful and a surprise.
Through it all, including an unexpected interaction with his youngest child, Maia, Millard remains steadfast in his purpose. He can’t help dropping little hints about his plans throughout the day to his nearest and dearest, although no one reads between the lines. But it doesn’t matter to Millard anymore. What matters is that he’s always lived his life on his own terms, and now he’s going to end it that way too.
Author Jacob M. Appel’s latest book garnered early attention as comparable to Fredrik Backman’s smash hit, A Man Called Ove. Devoted fans of the latter should definitely not read Millard Salter’s Last Day. Other than starring a protagonist intent on suicide, the two books couldn’t be more different from one another.
Appel’s novel reads less like a conventional story and more like a book-length list of incidents. The fact that the entire tome takes place over the course of a single day makes the pace drag almost unbearably. Millard wants to meet every single person who means something to him and runs into a few along the way who don’t mean that much. Going through every account will eventually exhaust readers.
While Millard’s determination may impress some readers, more of them may wonder where the story will end up. Appel tries to dress up most of the slow spots with Millard’s reminiscences of old-time New York City, but with most of the names unfamiliar to younger generations at some point readers will lose their patience.
That lack of patience will spill over to Millard as well; he comes across as wholly unlikeable and insufferable. At some point his pomposity comes across almost unjustified. His decision to kill himself, then, feels as much an expression of his ego as his complaints that the current generation knows nothing of the greats of the past.
The book winds to its inevitable, and thereby disappointing, conclusion. In the end, the incidents preceding the end of the book feel less than satisfying. I recommend readers Bypass Millard Salter’s Last Day.