Friday, January 22, 2010

Fiction Review: This is Where I Leave You

I absolutely loved Jonathan Tropper’s novel, The Book of Joe – and the TV show adapted from it, October Road – so I was excited to hear he had a new novel released, This Is Where I Leave You. I read it last fall (still catching up on that backlog of reviews!), and I was not disappointed. Though different from The Book of Joe, Tropper’s latest novel is engaging, thoughtful, and hysterically funny.

This Is Where I Leave You is about a dysfunctional family that comes together for a week to sit shiva for their father. This is how the oldest sister, Wendy, informs her brother (and main character), Judd, that their father has died:

“Dad’s dead,” Wendy says offhandedly, like it’s happened before, like it happens every day. It can be grating, this act of hers, to be utterly unfazed at all times, even in the face of tragedy. “He died two hours ago.”

“How’s Mom doing?”

“She’s Mom, you know? She wanted to know how much to tip the coroner.”

I have to smile, even as I chafe, as always, at our family’s patented inability to express emotion during watershed events. There is no occasion calling for sincerity that the Foxman family won’t quickly diminish or pervert through our own genetically engineered brand of irony and evasion. We banter, quip, and insult our way through birthdays, holidays, weddings, illnesses. Now Dad is dead and Wendy is cracking wise. It serves him right, since he was something of a pioneer at the forefront of emotional repression.

So, right away, you can see the set-up for this group of wise-cracking, distant siblings (there are four of them) to spend seven days together in their childhood home. But there’s more. Judd’s life is in turmoil right now. He recently caught his wife and his boss, a radio shock jock, having sex in his own bedroom and is now in the midst of a very painful and somewhat complicated divorce. Judd’s siblings all have their own issues and secrets, too.

Judd is a depressed but side-splittingly funny narrator with a dark sense of humor. Here, he describes his father’s last months:

…It took four months for him to die, three more than the oncologist had predicted. “Your dad’s a fighter,” they would say when we visited, which was a crock, because he’d already been soundly beaten. If he was at all aware, he had to be pissed at how long it was taking him to do something as simple as die. Dad didn’t believe in God, but he was a life-long member of the Church of Shit or Get Off the Can.

As you can see, Judd – and the rest of his family – are quite irreverent. If foul language or explicit sex scenes bother you, then you may want to skip this book. If not, then you’ll find the scene where Judd walks in on his wife and his boss very entertaining, as Judd sets it up here: “My marriage ended the way these things do: with paramedics and cheesecake.”

I laughed out loud all the way through this novel, but it also has a serious side, as Judd and his sister and brothers try to resolve their various problems and begin to come together, despite their expertise in remaining distant. Judd himself is struggling just to pull his life back together after his wife’s devastating betrayal. Tropper has a talent for portraying real-life relationships and problems with depth and humor. I enjoyed this novel very much and can’t wait for his next one!

For more information on Jonathan Tropper, you can visit his website.

You can hear an interview with Tropper about his novel at amazon's page (scroll down a bit) - he's working on a screenplay of it for Warner Brothers!

339 pages, Dutton (Penguin Group)


  1. Dysfunctional families and individuals --my favorite type of story next to coming of age...LOL (I dod have to read these) thanks Sue

  2. I'm going to have to get this now! Thank you, Sue!

  3. I've been wanting to read that one. Now I want to read it even more! Great review!

  4. Oh Sue, you had me laughing out loud just reading your review. I loved this book!! It made my 2009 Favorite Books list. My copy was from the library but when the paperback is released, I'll be buying it for my keeper shelf. Great review!

  5. Sue the paragraph you put in about the dad dieing is priceless... I laughed!