10 September 2009

Books: This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper

In a pitch perfect take on the family saga, Jonathan Tropper’s side-splitting This Is Where I Leave You is often funny as it is heartbreaking.

We learn, as Judd Foxman’s narrates, is not having anywhere near a perfect few months. Soon after discovering his wife in bed with another man -Judd’s obnoxious, popular radio personality boss - he learns of the death of his father. Faced with returning to his family and home, his future ex-wife compounds the problems by announcing she’s pregnant with Judd’s baby.

With this news, Judd returns to his home town of Elmsbrook where he and his dysfunctional family plan to sit Shiva - which surprises Judd, as he knew his father did not have a religious bone in his body. So, for the first time in years, the Foxman’s are together for seven days following the funeral. In the same house. Like a family.

There’s Judd’s mom, Hillary, is a psychiatrist and the bestselling author of Cradle and All: A Mother's Guide to Enlightened Parenting. "Predictably," Judd notes, "my siblings and I were screwed up beyond repair." Also, there is his sister, Wendy, who has three kids younger than 6 and a husband who works in hedge funds and pays more attention to his BlackBerry than to his wife. Bitter Paul, the oldest, is the partner with their dad in the family sporting goods store, and remains angry at Judd for his failure at a baseball career. Then there’s Philip, the youngest and “the Paul McCartney of our family: better looking than the rest of us, always facing a different direction in pictures, and occasionally rumored to be dead.”

The novel is filled with some wonderful, very sly dialogue about family and death. It’s laugh-out-loud brilliant and I found many passages matched my life, including “Sometimes it’s heartbreaking to see your siblings as the people they’ve become. Maybe that’s why we all stay away from each other as a matter of course.”

Anyways, by the end of the shiva, Paul has one arm in a sling, Philip has a broken hand, Judd has a split lip, Wendy hasn't slept in days and Mom has had a serious falling-out with her lover. And to Tropper’s credit, the comedy is never glib and not everything is resolved by the end.

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