“ Author: Jonathan Tropper / Format: Paperback / Date of publication: 07 March 2009 / Genre: Modern & Contemporary Fiction / Publisher: Orion Publishing Co / Title: This is Where I Leave You / ISBN 13: 9781409102694 / ISBN 10: 1409102694 / Alternative EAN: 9780752885841 „
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This is a review of the 2010 book "This is where I leave you" by Jonathan Tropper. The book drew me in from the synopsis and it was a really different book to the kind I normally read but I'm so glad I read it, read on to find out why!
A bit about
The book begins with Judd Foxmann walking in on his wife having sex with his boss in their bedroom. Then Judd's father dies, all in the first couple of pages. Judd is called home to his family to carry out his father's dying wish to conduct a week of Shiva after his death mourning with his two brothers, sister and his mum... and several hangers on. The family reluctantly draw together and in the space of a week (which is the whole book) so much happens and it is all packed with emotion.
Judd meets with lots of old school friends when he returns to his childhood home, including a few sweethearts. He is pulled between his obligations to his father and the wish to try and save his marriage or at least find out what's really happened with his wife. His little brother Philip is a dark horse yet all the family love him and continually forgive him for the mistakes he makes. Sister Wendy is a witty yet tired mum with three snotty kids and a husband too busy to care. Paul is Judd's older brother who has never forgiven him for a childhood incident with a dog attack that ruined his sports career. Finally Judd's Mum who is a bit racy and fending off lots of batchelors who are preying on her now her husband has died.
Religion is a big theme in this book. The family consider themselves lapsed Jews yet are strangely comforted by the Jewish tradition of a seven day sit in for the deceased where they receive countless visits from friends and family to share their condolences and bring food. Love is also another big issue, where all the brothers and sister (and Mum) have a lot going on in their lives with past, present and future loves and losses.
I'm so glad I read this book, it was packed with emotion and a really different book for me to read. The reader is empathetic yet enthralled with Judd's life and dilemmas. Should he stay or go from his wife. Then it gets a bit more complicated but I don't want to give everything away in this review. I heartily recommend this book for reading, especially to get a man's perspective on life and a few tips on how to throw a good punch!
Judd Foxman thinks his life is good; that is until he finds his beautiful wife Jen in bed with his boss, so he subsequently resigns from his job (by throwing a chair at him I think), and then to top it all off his Dad dies. His mother Hillary informs Judd that his father's dying wish was that the four Foxman children 'sit shiva' for him, Judd finds this strange simply because his father was an atheist. To sit shiva is a Jewish custom where the family are required to spend seven days together in a period of mourning. The details of this custom unfold as the story is told.
So the four siblings; Judd, older sister Wendy, older brother Paul, and Philip the youngest brother (all in their mid 30s, apart from Phillip who is almost a decade younger) are summoned back to their childhood home to spend seven days together. Each sibling is living a very different life, Paul is married to Alice and they are trying but failing to have a baby, Wendy is married to Barry with 3 young children, Philip is still a bit of a child, and a bit of a loose cannon - drinks, drugs, whores, you name it, he's done it, and he's difficult to tie down, but is currently in a relationship with his much older therapist. Then there's Judd, who seemingly had the perfect life; until it all came crashing down around him.
Narrated by Judd, the book takes you through the seven days of 'shiva' and during this period you learn about the relationships between the 4 siblings, their families, their mother and various friends and relatives from the past who come to mourn the loss of Mort (the father). What you come to realise pretty early on in the book is that this is no ordinary family, they are pretty dysfunctional and don't seem to like each other very much. None of them are particularly pleased about the thought of spending seven days together, but they all obey their father's wishes nonetheless and 'sit shiva'.
Despite the morbid circumstances and the fact that the family don't seem to get along very well, you cannot fail to like any of the characters in the book. The way the author has written it makes you feel that this is a real family, just the way they speak to each other, have sly digs (or even full blown insults and fist fights) every now and then, and know exactly how to wind each other up; it makes for very entertaining reading. Trying to describe the book is quite difficult because the basis of the book doesn't sound like it would be very enjoyable, or indeed funny. But the way the characters are written, and the way the past is dug up as they each bump into various people from the past is just brilliant.
Judd has quite a morose take on life, which is to be expected, so he doesn't mince his words when it comes to talking about his family, and this in itself is funny because he sees them for what they really are, as you do when you are part of a family. The way he describes certain situations that arise whilst they are sitting shiva, are sometimes just downright hilarious, especially where Philip is involved; he is a somewhat outspoken oaf who doesn't seem to care who he offends or insults, which despite the fact his siblings find this very annoying, as a reader it is highly amusing. Judd also delves into the past quite frequently, remembering his father when he was a child and some of the daft but poignant little things that you do tend to remember from your childhood; this makes the book seem even more real to me. He also drags things up that have happened between each of the siblings throughout their childhood, and it becomes clear as you read through the book why the relationships may seem a little strained between them all. But as they are spending seven days together it is a chance for them to get to know each other all over again, and perhaps bury some of the past hurt and start afresh.
Along with adjusting to spending so much time with his dysfunctional family, Judd is also brooding over the loss of his adulterous wife. He loves and hates her at the same time and can't seem to stop thinking about her; she even makes a couple of appearances throughout the book, which makes for interesting reading, and you can really feel his hurt. But despite the hurt you feel for him, the author has a brilliant way of turning a potentially tragic moment into quite a comical one, which I think is pure genius. You can be sat there reading feeling so terribly sorry for Judd, then all of a sudden you are laughing out loud, it's crazy!
I really enjoyed reading this book, there were quite a few moments when I laughed out loud (and not many books can do that to me); I loved reading about Judd's past and the things he and his siblings would do to wind their mother up, and also the conversations between the four siblings as adults, I especially enjoyed it when the three brothers found themselves alone together, usually after some catastrophe, reflecting on their father and just uttering the words 'I miss Dad'. I loved these parts so much because it just felt like it was siblings united in their shared grief and just being honest with one another. Being one of four children myself I really identified with some of the situations in the book (obviously not sitting Shiva and not grieving for the loss of a parent), but the fact that you can't choose your family, you are all in it together despite any differences you may have, you think your brothers are idiots and want to punch them sometimes, but you love them nonetheless. I feel the author really has captured the essence of family ties and this is probably why I enjoyed reading it so much.
The book ends as the Shiva ends and I'll be honest and say I felt the ending was a little flat because you don't really get to see how anything works out for any of the family members. But upon reflection I see now that the whole idea of the book was for the reader to spend those seven days sitting Shiva with the Foxman family, and then you get back to your regular life, the same as they will be getting back to theirs. I felt sad that I wouldn't be reading about this family again once I'd closed the book, and it reminded me of when me and my siblings have been together at our parents house for a weekend, getting in each other's way, reminiscing about the past, reminding each other about idiotic things we have done, and generally having a good time, but then Sunday night comes and we all go our separate ways back to our separate lives. It was based on that feeling I chose to write this review; book reviews don't come easy to me, but I wanted to spread the word about 'This Is Where I Leave You' because I loved it, and want others to love it too.
What happens when everything in your life goes wrong at once? When life throws all of its crap at you in one go? Well, this is what happens to Judd Forman when he walks into his bedroom to find his wife having sex...with his boss. Which in turn means that he loses his job. Things don't get any better for Judd when his father dies from cancer and this brings his entire family together for the first time in several years. And his father's dying wish appears to have been that the entire family sit shiva; mourn for seven days in the same house while friends and neighbours can come round to give their condolences. Like a real family. However as the novel goes on the week spirals out of control as Judd's dysfunctional family struggle to keep things civil and Jedd struggles to make sense of his own life which has gone down the pan. The family starts falling apart at the seams as each and every one of them is dealing with old grudges and guilt which start to crop up their ugly heads.
You have the oldest brother, Paul, who is struggling to keep the small family business alive that originally belonged to their father. He doesn't want to be here, he had dreams and aspirations of a college scholarship as a teenager but these were all dashed when he was severely injured by a dog while trying to protect his brother. And so you have the first of the grudges in the family, as Paul still blames Judd for destroying his dreams. Paul's wife, Alice, is desperate to have a child and is starting to drive Paul around the bend with her unrelenting quest for pregnancy...to make matters a little bit more complicated she was Judd's first main girlfriend as teenagers...and both of them lost their virginity to each other many moons ago. Makes for a slightly awkward relationship, when you know that your brother has seen your wife naked.
Next in the family is Judd, who has plenty of problems of his own and the family are not being particularly helpful as he tries to pick up the wreckage of his life and fit it back together.
Wendy in the next child in line, who has two children of her own (who have joined her for the funeral and to sit shiva because she couldn't find a babysitter for seven days), and a husband who is so obsessed with business and work that he often seems to forget that he even has a family let alone a life outside of work.
The youngest son is Phillip, who is nine years younger than the rest of the family and is described as 'the Paul McCartney of our family: better looking than the rest of us, always facing a different direction in pictures, and occasionally rumoured to be dead. As the baby, he was alternately cuddled and ignored, which may have been a significant factor in his becoming such a terminally screwed-up adult.' On the whole he is a bit of a renegade who has never grown up, and there is always a chance of him being in jail, stoned or dead in a ditch at any given moment.
And the final member of the family is the mother, who is a supposed expert on child rearing, to the massive embarrassment of all of her own children as over the years she has told the entire world about their bed wetting, and bad habits.
The entire family can be seen as rather cold, ironic, evasive and on certain occasions insulting, for which they always blame their father for raising them to hide all emotions on all occasions whilst their mother speaks about everything. She has the motto of there are no secrets in the family, to the point where she regularly read her children's diaries. You can't however help but like them - even if you want to slap them all around the head several times on occasions.
The book is written in a very comedic fashion with some very serious issues being dealt with in a sarcastic and amusing way. However, he hasn't allowed the humour to get in the way of a story about what could be a normal family, and the way in which each family member deals with both their grief after losing the father, and the issues which they have been dragging around with them for years. He writes in such a way that you can empathise with each member of the family and understand their motive for their behaviour, whether you necessarily agree with them or not. He covers the guilt and the grievances of the family in a very clever way, often going back in time to the actual events through one person's memories. Jonathon Tropper isa man who obviously understands the dynamics of family life, and is able to write about them honestly whilst adding in a touch of ironic or dark humour.
"...Often hilarious and often heartbreaking...Consistently surprising. Tropper keeps the reader off balance by changing the allegiances between siblings and spouses, friends and enemies, lovers and losers, and the result is a novel that charms by allowing for messes, loose ends, and the reality that there's only one sure ending for everyone." (LA TIMES )
"The novel is artful and brilliant, filled with colorful narratives and witty dialogue...Tropper gives a genuine portrayal of marriage, sibling rancor, and the loss of a parent. The subject matter is dismal at times, but Tropper...can find the funny in any situation." (ASSOCIATED PRESS )
'Death, divorce and unemployment become the stuff of no-holds-barred comedy in an ultimately tender tale of dysfunctional family life.' (BLOOMBERG.COM )
I found that this was a very well written novel, which could easily have been turned into the chick-flick style family comedy, but was instead written as an adult comedy that ventures into the realms of ironic, sarcastic and dark, but never into silly for the sake of silliness. Although I read through it far too quickly (I'm a quick reader and very little takes more than a day), I think I got through the 340 pages in about 4-5 hours which kind of left me wondering if it was worth the £9.99 that I spent on it at Waterstones. I did enjoy it though, and it is a book that can engage you in the lives of a middle aged family and the problems in life that they run into along the way. The way Jonathon Tropper has writes the different characters often made me smirk, particularly their view points on serious issues. An example of this is when Phillip, the youngest brother, is standing on the roof of the house threatening to jump because his proposal to his girlfriend has been turned down. The way each of the family respond to this is quite telling: Paul: 'He's taking it like a man', Phillip himself knows he's being childish and manipulative but: 'Whatever works', and their mother states that 'There is only one way to treat a tantrum and that is to ignore it' and when asked what happens if he jumps she replies: 'Then I'll have to re-think my thesis'. This shows what I mean about the darker edge of the humour that Tropper employs, and how he uses this to add new perspectives to certain issues.
Well, the million dollar question; should you buy it? And the answer is yes. The story is engaging and funny, the characters are well written and realistic as well as being characters you can empathise with. I suppose it does depend on what style of humour you enjoy, but if this mildly sarcastic and ironic, and rather dark humour appeals to you, then this may well be for you. It is a book that could easily be re-read, so give it a shot and see what you think.
Title: This Is Where I Leave You
Author: Jonathan Tropper
Paperback: 340 pages
Publisher: Orion (21 Jan 2010)
Price: New: £9.99 - Waterstones,