Dutton Hardcover, 2009
Opening lines from Chapter 1:
Dad’s dead,” Wendy says off handedly, 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.”Welcome, book fanatics, to the writing of Jonathan Tropper: both hilarious and touching, I found this book immensely readable. Tropper has a near-perfect ear for dialog, and he uses profanity, graphic sex, and a touch of scatology to round out his marvelous talent.
“How’s Mom doing?”
“She’s Mom, you know? She wanted to know how much to tip the coroner.”
If Wendy sounds insensitive in the opening quote, she isn’t. Talking to her brother Judd, their father’s death was imminent and expected. Wendy does have a bomb to drop, however. Dad was an aetheist, but his dying wish was for his family to sit shiva—the Jewish equivalent of an Irish wake minus the booze.
To use the term dysfunctional for the Foxman clan would be an overused cliché; the family doesn’t function at all, dys or otherwise. But family they are, and they reluctantly agree to sit shiva for seven days.
Mom is Hillary Foxman, age 63, a woman with exceptional double-D implants and skirts that barely cover her bits in the low shiva chairs. There are three sons—Paul, Judd, and Phillip—and a lone daughter, Wendy. Add mates, girlfriends, a constant influx of mourners, and the stage is set for an outrageous farce.
Except that This is Where I Leave You is not at all farcical. Judd, the middle brother, is the narrator throughout the book. Just a few weeks before his father’s death, Judd found his boss having sex with his wife. A wife he adored. Homeless, jobless, wifeless, and now fatherless, Judd is a man lost. This is Tropper’s real genius: mixing poignant and emotional back story with the present.
Because the narrator is male, Tropper concentrates on the three brothers and their relationship with each other. To me, they were little more than boys walking around in adult bodies: anger, resentments, shouting matches, and several bouts of fisticuffs ultimately led to the question, “What the hell has happened to us?”
Peter at Kyushi Reader suggests there is a new fiction genre called “lad lit.” He cites both Tropper and Nick Hornby in this category, and I tend to agree with him. Men do have emotions, they do fall in love, and they do stick around after the honeymoon is over. I read a lot of me in this book, which is probably why I liked it so much: I could relate.
Nevertheless, ladies, don’t pass this book up because of a label. It’s great.
[Thanks to Diane at Bibliophile By the Sea for recommending this book!]