Archive for the ‘Jonathan Tropper’ Category

I loved This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper.  I thought I was going to, having only heard adoring reviews of it, but one never knows.  Not only did I love it, but it also helped me to recover quite speedily from what was an abnormally stressful week.  There’s nothing like starting a really good novel while riding the bus on a Friday morning to make you all the more excited for the weekend to begin. 

The premise of the story is as follows:

The death of Judd Foxman’s father marks the first time that the entire Foxman family-including Judd’s mother, brothers, and sister-have been together in years. Conspicuously absent: Judd’s wife, Jen, whose fourteen-month affair with Judd’s radio-shock-jock boss has recently become painfully public.

Simultaneously mourning the death of his father and the demise of his marriage, Judd joins the rest of the Foxmans as they reluctantly submit to their patriarch’s dying request: to spend the seven days following the funeral together. In the same house. Like a family.

As the week quickly spins out of control, longstanding grudges resurface, secrets are revealed, and old passions reawakened.  For Judd, it’s a weeklong attempt to make sense of the mess his life has become while trying in vain not to get sucked into the regressive battles of his madly dysfunctional family.

 Who doesn’t enjoy reading about an emotionally-damaged, severely dysfunctional family?  The opening dialogue between siblings Judd and Wendy sets the tone for the rest of the novel:

“Dad’s dead” 

“How’s Mom doing?” 

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

There’s love here but it’s well-masked in a family that has spent years relying on quips and redirection to avoid any embarrassingly emotional scenes.  The first part of the novel is very much in that style, always cracking wise, jumping from topic to topic with lightening speed, never dwelling anywhere long enough for any emotion to be processed fully.  When Judd introduces the topic of his wife’s infidelity, it is certainly in this style, with the magnificent line: “my marriage ended the way these things do: with paramedics and cheesecake” (p. 14).

The relationship between the four siblings (Wendy, Paul, Judd and Phillip) was the most intriguing part of the novel for me.  Like any relationship in this book, it’s messy with too much history and scores kept for too many years.  Wendy is the eldest, flying in from California accompanied by her three children and her husband who treats her like dirt.  After her, Paul, the one who stayed nearby, who took over the family business, whose wife can’t get pregnant, and who can’t seem to rid himself of the chip on his shoulder.  Then Judd, our cuckolded narrator, and finally Phillip, the exasperating baby of the family, the one who makes the other three look ridiculously normal and perfect in comparison.  He is described by Judd as being “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 (p.4).”

I have always found sibling relationship messy and fascinating.  You love your siblings and as a child you spend more time with them than with anyone else, but inevitably you drift.  Once you’re no longer living under the same roof or even in the same city, there’s very little tying you together except the knowledge that, one day, you will be the only ones left, the only remnants of your parents, that your siblings will be the only other people who understand what it was like to grow up where and when you did, who will remember the same family vacations and the same tired jokes.  Sibling relationships are the ones we take for granted but they are the ones that will last the longest – longer than our relationships with our parents, longer than with our spouses or our own children.  And yet, so many people neglect them, maybe because, as Judd says, “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” (p. 321).

It’s not an uplifting novel – there’s no redemption and the ending would not necessarily be described as happy.  It is a novel about family and death and grief and it is very funny and very, very good.  Definitely worth reading.

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