Tuesday, August 4, 2009

REVIEW: This is Where I Leave You, by Jonathan Tropper

This is Where I Leave You, by Jonathan Tropper. Published 2009 by Dutton/Penguin.

Click here to buy This Is Where I Leave You from your favorite indie bookstore.

This is Where I Leave You is to my mind the ideal beach book. It's raucously funny, raunchy and bittersweet and it's an effortless, effervescent novel I read in a couple of days.

The story concerns one Judd Foxman, a married man in his mid-thirties whose wife has just left him for his boss, a radio shock jock. Judd's father has also just died, and author Jonathan Tropper uses the Jewish ritual of the shiva, a formal seven day mourning period, as the narrative framework. Judd's mother insists that his father's dying wish was that his not-particularly-religious family perform the ritual so this rowdy group- Judd's mother, sister, and brother, along with their spouses, children and baggage- has to put up with each other and survive a week of very close proximity.

It's a great set up for a dysfunctional family comedy and Tropper delivers both laughs and pathos in roughly equal measure but the laughs are what I'll remember the most. Judd deals with his humiliation and bereavement through self-deprecating sarcasm and self-loathing:
To have nothing when you're twenty is cool, it's expected, but to have nothing when you're halfway to seventy, softening and widening on a daily basis, is something altogether different. It's like setting out to drive cross-country without any gas money. I will look back at this time and see it as the start of a slow process that ends with me dying alone after living out my days in an empty apartment with only the television and a slow, waddling dog to keep me company, the kind of place that will smell stale to visitors, but not to me, since the stale thing will be me.
It's not an entirely dismal picture- at least he has a dog and visitors, right?

Along the way Judd and his family learn some things about each other and themselves, but there are no clear resolutions and when the family parts ways there's only a slight sense that anything has changed. But that's okay, because I think the point of This is Where I Leave You is to make you laugh and any lessons are delivered with a spoonful of sugar, some irreverence and a wink or two. If you like family comedies, this light, fun, well-crafted novel will be the perfect addition to your beach bag this summer.


You can also read Susan's review at Bagels, Books & Schmooze.

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from the publisher.