Review: This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper

This is Where I Leave You is my third book by Jonathan Tropper this year.  This book is his latest, and I’ll sum it up in this way: it’s more polished than the others, but I enjoyed it less.

The book is about Judd Foxman, a 30-ish guy who just discovered Jen, his wife of nine years, sleeping with his boss, (Wade) who’s a famous radio personality.  This is an ugly double-whammy because now he’s lost his wife and his job at the same time.  On top of that, Jen is pregnant and plans on staying with Wade.

Judd finds out that his father has died and has to return to his childhood home. The father has been in a cancer-induced coma for some time, so the book is less about Judd’s grief for his father and more about his marriage and problems with his mother, sister and two brothers.  Judd’s mother asks Judd and  his siblings to “sit shiva”, which is a Jewish funeral ritual where the family stays at home and mourns for seven days while friends come to pay their respects (and bring food).   Judd and his siblings haven’t spent time together in years, so the prospect of seven days together is daunting.

Since I’m Jewish, it was interesting to read about shiva, not that it was described with great depth.  I haven’t been part of one, but as with a lot of other Jewish rituals, it makes a lot of sense to me.  The idea is that you suspend your own life to really take the time to mourn someone, and in that time you support your friends and family as well as reflect on your own life.  Tropper pokes some fun at the idea but also seems to respect it.

I said the book was more polished and fixes some of the flaws of the other two books I’ve read (The Book of Joe and How to Talk to a Widower).  The writing is tighter and the characters are more realistic, less caricatured.  The events that take place in the book are less “over the top” and there’s a lot less drugs and sex (not sure if that’s a good thing or bad).  The pacing of events is much better — in Book of Joe it was ridiculous how many crazy madcap things happened in one day.  Because of the structure of this book, everything occurs over seven days, and the seven days feels like a long time because to the characters it’s a VERY long time.

But I also said I enjoyed this book less.  The other two books I read made me laugh and cry (out loud and in public) and were written with an emotional punch to the gut that was lacking in this book.  Judd’s problems felt overwhelming to me – finding your spouse having sex in your bed, facing an unwanted pregnancy and a failed marriage, losing your father – and then there are the many problems between Judd and his family.  I liked the characters but in the end didn’t get too invested in their lives (with one exception, I loved the character of Judd’s mother).

I love the way Tropper writes.  In a way his books are a relief from real life because they are so ridiculous and the characters are so screwed up.  But it’s more that he gives you the feeling he’s just writing about himself, and that he’s a guy you’d like to know.  He’s a “guy’s guy” and a sensitive male at the same time.  My favorite thing about Tropper is I feel like I get the guy’s lens on things I’m thinking about.  Like the narrator in this book is constantly describing the breasts, legs, etc. of every woman he sees.  Do men really view the world that way? I think my husband would say yes.  Also Tropper describes things at a level of detail no one else does.  In this book there’s a long description of what it feels like for a guy to get kicked in the balls.  I don’t think I’ve ever read a description that actually made me feel like aha, that’s what it must feel like.  I’ll never know of course; but Tropper gives it an excellent try. I’ll have to run that one past my husband too.

Basically, Tropper writes about family and sex and love in ways that are funny, moving, and also really make sense.  So even if I didn’t love this one, I’ll still keep reading.

  3 comments for “Review: This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper

  1. November 3, 2010 at 9:59 pm

    I liked this book and especially the character of Wendy. I got a little tired of the constant boobs, legs, ass talk but it was interesting to see the world from a guy’s PoV.

    I should check out How to Talk to a Widower. I’ve heard good things about this one

    • November 4, 2010 at 11:06 am

      Widower was great, I would definitely check it out. Not many people write about what happens when a spouse dies (though another great one is After You’d Gone by Maggie O’Farrell). Interesting that Wendy resonated with you, I imagine people identify with the characters in this book differently. I liked the older brother too.

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