Thursday, February 25, 2010

Review: This is Where I Leave You

This is Where I Leave You, Jonathan Tropper

Dutton Hardcover, 2009
ISBN 9780525951278
352 pages

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.”

“How’s Mom doing?”

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

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.

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!]


Wandering Coyote said...

Wow, I have never even heard of this guy before!

savannah said...

i'll have to put this book on my list, sugar! thank you. xooxoo

Diane said...

Glad u liked this one Charlie; great review!

Pat said...

'This is Where I Leave You,'

That got my spirits plummeting but its just a book thank Heaven and one I'd enjoy reading - when I've finished with Frank Gardner:)

Shellie (Layers of Thought) said...


I will be sending John over to the "lad lit" site. I do like that terminology.

I have not read anything by him yet but keep seeing him around - perhaps this is my cue.

TechnoBabe said...

I say thanks for the review. This book sounds interesting to me. I added it to me list to read. I just checked online and it is at my library. Cool.

Eryl Shields said...

I came over to thank you for being kind about my face in the comment section of Kim's latest post, and find myself having to buy another book!

I like the idea of 'Lad Lit' and see its precursor in the stories of John Cheever and Raymond Carver.

Charlie said...

ERYL: What a nice surprise! If I'd known you were coming round I'd have had tea ready.

I believe you're right about Cheever and Carver. I devoured Cheever years ago and I'm on my second reading--with much different results, of course.

I also have a door-stopper book of Carver's stories to dig into . . .

I'll be looking forward to a new series of photos of you from Kim. I think you both enjoy it.

Lady_Amanda said...

Oh my goodness! This sounds like a wonderful book. I wouldn't mind that it a male prespective. I like to get into other people's minds! I love your blog, by the way. I have all this blogs and healing and struggle and I get down to yours on my dashboard and I think, "Here is a breathe of Fresh Air." Did I ever tell you that my degree is in Lit? I could talk about books all day long.

Hugs sweetie,

Tiffin said...

Good review, Charlie. Will look for it.

kara said...

oooh, i've been looking for something new to read. this is going to the top of the library hold list.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

You had me at the cited paragraph! I'd read this.

And for the record, I am a rather big fan of lad lit. Another reason to read this. Thanks!

Mary Witzl said...

Whoa, this sounds GREAT!

I'm not a fan of either extreme boy-stuff or girl-stuff (especially the latter), but I love books like this, that are funny, but deal with difficult subjects. I will absolutely look out for this one.

You write great book reviews and I always know I can trust them.

Shellie (Layers of Thought) said...

I have come by again to check out your lad lit link :)

Nice new lay out... I hope it wasn't done under duress, since I did note you were having some issues with blogger.

Take care Charlie!