This Is Where I Leave You: A Novel: Tropper, Jonathan

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This Is Where I Leave You: A Novel: Tropper, Jonathan

This Is Where I Leave You: A Novel: Tropper, Jonathan

Top reviews from the United States

Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on January 30, 2013

`Shiva' is the Jewish ritual of mourning for seven ("shiva") days after the burial of an immediate relative.

The funeral is the first day of shiva, following that the deceased's family sit in their home to receive mourners and remember the dead. Mirrors are covered, because vanity has no place in grief. Mourners bring food for the family, because it is a sign of love and respect.

At the end of shiva, the family of mourners are meant to walk around the block to shake off their grief and remind them what waits for them outside the house of mourning.

Shiva is often used as a distraction from the loss, and for mourners to openly experience their grief together with friends and family.

For the Foxman family sitting shiva will be a distraction from their individually catastrophic lives.

Judd Foxman recently found his wife of 10 years in bed with his boss. They had been separated for eight weeks when he heard that his father finally lost a two-year battle with cancer, and his dying wish was that his family find religion in his death when he never had faith in life. Just as Judd leaves to bury his father, his (ex?)wife lobs one more grenade at him – she's pregnant.

Paul Foxman is the eldest sibling. He blames Judd for a terrible accident in their youth that cost him his baseball career. Paul's wife, Alice, is desperate to conceive but her fertility frustrations are starting to have adverse affects on her personality.

Wendy Foxman lives in California with her three children and work-obsessed husband who has his blackberry permanently glued to his ear and treats his kids like strangers.

Phillip Foxman was his parent's happy accident – a child born ten years apart from his siblings. He is the coddled baby who never owns up for his numerous mistakes. He has bought his therapist-turned-engaged-to-be-engaged-fiancée along to shiva.

Then there's Hillary Foxman – matriarch and bestselling author of a many times reprinted parenting manual. Of course, because she is a much celebrated child-guru, all of her children are utterly screwed up and have not been together under the same roof in years.

If the Foxman family can survive seven days together, it will be a bloody miracle.

`This is Where I Leave You' was the 2009 New York Times bestseller from contemporary novelist, Jonathan Tropper.

I have a secret reading weapon, and his name is Jonathan Tropper. No, seriously. Whenever I get myself into a reading-rut he saves me. When I can only read one page and retain nothing before my eyes start to strain and the Facebook newsfeed calls to me. When I buy numerous $2.99 Kindle eBooks that are horrendously trashy and the reading equivalent of cotton-candy. When I pick up, read the blurb, put down, pick up and read the first page of every book in my TBR pile . . . Jonathan Tropper saves me.

Tropper is my fail-safe. He has written six books in his illustrious career, and so far three of them have saved me from reading-ruts, and I've got the other three tucked away for safekeeping. In 2007 it was `The Book of Joe'. The reading-rut of 09' was saved by `How To Talk To A Widower'. I don't know what it is about the guy, but I pick up one of his books and I'm instantly invested. I like to think of Tropper as the anti-Nicholas Sparks. If Sparks is puppies and unicorns and book-to-film adaptations tailor-made for Miley Cyrus then Tropper is the opposite of that – he writes witty, warts and all, hit-rock-bottom and laugh-out-loud damaged characters that I love/pity/fear because I find a little too much of myself in them. And he's funny. My God! Belly-aching laughs amid truly awful circumstances – reading a Jonathan Tropper book is like trying to suppress a giggle at a funeral, which I guess is an especially apt description for this book.

Y'know how most plots are structured so that the protagonist hits rock bottom somewhere in the middle, so that the second half of the book can be them clawing their way back to the top (or at least reach a happy middling?) Well, for protagonist Judd Foxman it's more about starting out at rock bottom, and then finding new and delicious ways to claw even deeper underground. When the book opens, Judd is informed of his father's passing. It's not that much of a surprise, since the man was slowly dying from cancer these past two years. But Judd only lost his wife eight weeks ago, after walking in on her and his alpha-boss, Wade, going at it (and then discovering they'd been going at it for a year). Now his mum informs him that his dad's dying wish was for all the Foxman children to come together and sit shiva, and be together for seven consecutive days to say goodbye to him.

So, Judd has to face his family in the midst of his pitying new loneliness. But then his wife, Jen, turns up to also inform him that she's pregnant.

Stuck in his childhood home with his dysfunctional family, all of whom have their own crises their playing out amongst greeting mourners, is not a great way to recover from heartbreak and the looming years of middle-aged loneliness ahead of you. But there's also the fact that nearly all the Foxman children are harbouring secret, and not so secret, resentments against one another that are bound to come bubbling to the surface.

It's no wonder that Judd starts having nightmares about his dead father in which he sports a prosthetic leg and has sex with his recently reconnected childhood crush, Penny Moore.

While Judd starts coming to terms with his father's death, he's also suffocating from the hatred he feels towards his cheating wife (who he still loves) and the life they built together, now crumbled. He thinks back over infinitesimal details of their romance, as well as the larger obstacles they weren't able to overcome.

Judd, like all of Tropper's characters, is not an entirely likeable man. Just because he's the lovelorn underdog in this saga, will not make readers predisposed to like him. He has flaws, and becomes selfish in his grief, thinking that a wounded heart makes him less culpable when dealing with other people's feelings. But the very fact that he's a prickly, depressed, sucker-in-love is a reason in itself to root for him, even as you shake your head and admonish him.

Case in point: Judd reconnecting with his high school crush (and best friend), Penny Moore. Penny is stuck in her home town, and when she starts hanging out with Judd again she makes reference to being on medication, having a sick mother and just generally expecting people to treat her badly because it's happened so often in the past. But does Judd care to get to the root of Penny's problems, or even ask her to extrapolate on them? No. Because he's so caught up in his own misery, and can't really see Penny beyond being a healing-balm for him in his time of need. That's some sucky behaviour, right there. But I defy anyone not to recognize a bit of themselves in Judd's miserable selfishness – when our own worlds are imploding, empathy and compassion for others pretty much goes out the window.

Actually, all of the Foxman children are hard to stomach at times. Tropper has most definitely cut them all from the same cloth – and they vary in their likability and levels of selfish, prickliness and ability to trample hearts left and right. But they're a fun bunch to read about because they're so absurdly messy in their lives. But what it comes down to is this; they're family. Love them, hate them, resent the hell out of them . . . these people come together for seven days and are reminded that they were integral to one another's lives at one point or another. Slowly they drift back together, they reconnect and reform in the wake of tragedy and the book is a very lovely and different sort of romance for essentially being more about the love between families than the romantic love that can so easily shatter.

I'm kind of thrilled to discover that Tropper has adapted `This Is Where I Leave You' into a film – and the likes of Jason Bateman, Zac Efron and Goldie Hawn have already signed up for the still up-in-the-air project. I think this could be an absurdly brilliant movie, since it has been left in Tropper's screenwriting hands (he's had recent success with the crazy TV show `Banshee' – which is nothing like any book he has ever written but still amazing!)

I want to see this movie made because `This Is Where I Leave You' is the road less travelled when it comes to grief and romance. It's warts-and-all, witty, sad and frustrating for the imperfections depicted in both life and characters. You can keep your Nicholas Sparks honey-hued tales of love and redemption and good-guys getting the girl in the end and books that can be summarized perfectly into one-word movie taglines and posters of guys (Duhamel, Gosling, Tatum) doing that head-cradle-kiss thing. You can keep all that – because those stories don't pull me out of reading-ruts. Only Tropper can do that.

… and, for the record, if I was going to get a head-cradle-kiss I'd much prefer Jason Bateman over Channing Tatum.

Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on October 6, 2010

2 words that describe the book–Hilarious Dysfunction

3 setting where the book took place or characters I met

* Setting: Somewhere on the East Coast (the exact location escapes me and I'm too lazy to look it up right now), modern day

* Judd Foxman is our narrator. He's not having the best year. He caught his wife Jen in bed with his boss (a radio shock jock), which led to the loss of his job and his home. Now his father has died, and he's been summoned home to sit shiva for seven days–despite the fact that his father was an atheist and no one in his family practices Judaism anymore. The book takes place over the course of the seven days–allowing us to meet the various members of Judd's hilariously dysfunctional family.

* The Foxman family is filled with rage, pain, dysfunction, resentment and secrets–so bringing everyone together makes for a rollicking good time (for the reader). We have the inappropriate dressing, TMI-spouting shrink mother; sarcastic older sister Wendy, whose husband is barely there even when he is there; the oldest brother Paul and his wife–both of whom have some past issues with Judd to work out; and the youngest brother Philip–the irresponsible Golden Boy who has taken up with a much older woman.

4 things I liked or disliked about the book

* This book was laugh-out-loud funny–I'm talking snorting a drink out of your nose type of laughter. Tropper just reels off hilarious lines page after page. I kept thinking "Why have I never read this author before? Why was this type of hilariousness kept from me?" From descriptions of his siblings ("[he was 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") to describing Judd's marriage as ending "the way these things do: with paramedics and cheesecake," you'll never be far from a funny line. Even advice for paying shiva calls will crack you up:

EXCERPT: "There are tricks to paying a shiva call. You don't want to come during off-peak hours, or you risk being the only one there, face-to-face with five surly mourners who, but for your presence, would be off their low chairs, stretching their legs and their compressed spines, taking a bathroom break, or having a snack. Evenings are your safest bet, after seven, when everyone's eaten and the room is full. Weekday afternoons are a dead zone. Sunday is a crapshoot. Do a drive-by and count the parked cars before you stop. If you're lucky, there will already be a conversation going on when you come in, so you won't have to sit there trying to start one of your own. It's hard to talk to the bereft. You never know what's off-limits."

* Yet at the same time, the story is filled with very real and complex emotions. Tropper does a brilliant job of walking the tightrope between hilarity and angst–without tipping too far one way or the other. I think this is very difficult to do, yet Tropper seems to pull it off effortlessly. Judd is devastated by his divorce–desperate, needy and confused. You feel his pain throughout the story–especially when his ex-wife hits him with some very disconcerting news. And as the Foxmans work through their long buried issues as a family, I think most readers will be able to relate to the confusing emotions that can arise. The Foxmans felt utterly real and alive to me–albeit way funnier than most families.

* I loved how Tropper focused on all the members of the Foxman family to one degree or another. Everyone has their own issues, and it all comes out during the shiva. It felt realistic and messy–just like real life. In addition, the Foxman's family friends and neighbors make appearances and are brought to life as much as the family members. I loved how Tropper created these quick sketches that fleshed out each character's personalities and foibles in just a few lines. I could instantly imagine such minor players as the clueless older neighbor who is trying to make a move on the new widow or the young girls who flock around Philip and cause his girlfriend anxiety.

* I enjoyed this book so much I immediately went to Paperback Swap and ordered most of Tropper's earlier books. Based on this book alone, he's earned a place on my "favorite authors" list. Let's hope his other books are filled with as much wit and pathos as this one!

5 stars or less for my rating:

I'm giving the book 4.5 stars. I just loved this book to pieces! Tropper combined humor with true emotion–an unbeatable combination in my mind. If you're in the mood for laugh-out-loud contemporary fiction also taps into the all too real and messy emotions of life, this book would be the perfect choice. A word of caution though: The book can be a bit raunchy at times, and the language might make some blush. If stuff like that bothers you, this book might not be the best choice for you.

Top reviews from other countries

5.0 out of 5 stars

Funny, sad and wonderful!

Reviewed in the United Kingdom 🇬🇧 on June 25, 2012

It takes a rare talent to write a novel covering a very short time span, with a plot where nothing much happens, but Tropper has carried this one off beautifully.

A huusband and father dies, and his family decide to sit shiva (a Jewsh ritual in which the bereaved family receive friends and condolences) for a week following his death. The story is told in the first person by Judd, one of the sons, and it follows the events of that week. There is Mom, who seems amazingly relaxed considering the circumstances, and who harbours her own secret; son Judd, recently separated from his wife, who has left him for his boss; daughter, Wendy, and her small children and insufferable husband; son Paul and his wife Alice, who is desperately trying for a baby; and the baby of the family, Phillip, and his much older girlfriend. Relationships shift, there is grief and laughter and some sex (some reviewers have complained abotu the amount of sex in this book, but such sex as there is neither gratuitous nor out of place).

This novel is beautifully written. In places very funny, at times sad, affectionate – it has everything. The writing flows, and towards the end I had to ration my reading so as not to finish it too quickly. If you are after a fast-moving, exciting read, then maybe this is not for you. But if you enjoy first class writing, warm characters and a very human storyline, then please read it. You will not be disappointed.

5.0 out of 5 stars

Seven days of Shiva!

Reviewed in the United Kingdom 🇬🇧 on November 16, 2014

This is the first time I have read Jonathan Tropper and I don't think it will be the last. This author has a unique way of writing and I can feel or sense his voice in his writing. I hear this is now a major movie picture which doesn't surprise me – it really would be perfect for this book and I intend to look out for it.

Judd Foxman's father has died and the whole family is assembled for the burial and to conduct seven days of shiva which the mother says was the father's dying wish. Theres nothing worse for the Foxman family then each others company for any prolonged period of time in the same house. What surfaces is old resentments, tensions and family drama with Judd's own breakup with his wife following him finding her in bed with his boss at the centre of it. All the characters are interesting with their own individual dramas. I loved the ending because now I am not sure what's really going to happen to Judd 🙂

4.0 out of 5 stars

The ultimate dysfunctional family

Reviewed in the United Kingdom 🇬🇧 on August 14, 2013

Judd returns to his family home to sit shiva for his father's death. This means he will be in the same house as his mother and his siblings (most of whom dislike each other) for a week, and this on top of discovering his wife has been having an affair with his boss for the last year or so! So no shortage of conflict here, to say the least … (I shan't start listing all the sibling rivalries – I'll just let you discover them).

The author handles it all well, and though some issues are perhaps borderline unbelievable, perhaps that's just because I get on fairly well with my siblings. Touchy subjects are treated with tact, and a fair amount of subtle humour. It's not a comedy by any means, but I did find myself laughing out loud on more than one occasion.

I've not read any of the author's other works, though I think I'll be looking some of them up after this.

3.0 out of 5 stars

Doesn't deliver its promises

Reviewed in the United Kingdom 🇬🇧 on July 1, 2013

The premise of this book is great – a death, a family reunited in grief, confronting past and present issues – and I really enjoyed the first chapters, with their tragicomic flare. But the more I read the more situations and characters became improbable, while I slowly detached myself from their preoccupations. By the end I couldn't wait for them to go away, back to their miserable lives, and didn't really care about any of them. Least of all Judd Foxman, who as the book progressed, showed himself as immature and neurotic. The settings became repetitive, with the flashbacks a welcome relief from the boredom of the shiva scenes, and the dialogue, while witty and sharp, was unrealistic and uniformed, giving the sense that it wasn't really the characters who spoke, but the author himself. A good idea that somehow got lost in the execution.

5.0 out of 5 stars

Modern Exploration of Twenty First Century Family Life

Reviewed in the United Kingdom 🇬🇧 on May 2, 2015

This Is Where I Leave you was being read by one of the inmates in an episode of Orange is The New Black, which was such a good series I decided to buy Jonathan Tropper's novel that has also been made into a film, released September 19, 2014. It is a tale of affairs, death, homosexuality, desperation for children, miscarriages, accidents, failure; a modern exploration of twenty first century family life, containing some real unexpected twists and secrets. The narrator is an American man who at the beginning of the novel is devastated by two life changing events and the novel is about how he and the people in his life deal with these events and help one another through harder times. I will definitely be buying the film from Amazon Instant Video.

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