Title: This is Where I Leave You
Author: Jonathan Tropper
Release Date: August 6, 2009
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Publisher: 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. All of which would be hard enough without the bomb Jen dropped the day Judd's father died: She's pregnant.
My Thoughts: The narrator and main character of This is Where I Leave You, Judd Foxman, is a man in his mid-30s whose life is falling apart. I thought it was refreshing and very interesting to have a male narrator when so many books have female leads and narrators. We are privy to his thoughts, ideas, feelings and dreams, many of which include the female anatomy and sex but not in a graphic or distasteful way. Foxman is a very likable and sympathetic character, most of the time, and easily relatable. He has been hurt badly by his wife (they are separated) as well as his former boss and is very angry at them with good reason: they are now in a relationship. As for their former couple friends, they chose his wife and her new boyfriend over him, mostly due to the fact that it's easier for couples to hang out with couples, while Judd is all alone. He's also humiliated, sad, very lonely, and despairing. It's quite realistic and understandable that he'd be feeling sorry for himself and spending his days wallowing in his misery trying to figure out where he went wrong. To make matters worse, his father dies and this just exacerbates his sadness and pain.
Judd isn't up to sitting shiva with his family (a seven day ordeal) which makes sense based on what's going on in his life right now. He isn't particularly close to his family and doesn't feel that they really know him. But, it turns out, he doesn't know them very well either and much of this, he learns, is his fault. He hasn't bothered to spend much time with his parents or his siblings since he left home for college all those years ago. After a short time with his family, a different Judd starts to emerge. He isn't just a nice guy getting dumped on by life. It appears that he's also somewhat self-centered and selfish. Judd's not the only one in his family having a difficult time. He has a lot of guilt in relation to his family, much of it brought on by his own actions and choices. And even though time with them may result in his having to face some unpleasant truths about himself, these seven days with his family may be just the antidote he needs to feeling sorry for himself.
It turns out the whole Foxman family isn't particularly close. The siblings competed with each other for their parents' love and attention and there's been misunderstandings and resentments and little to no communication. The youngest, Phillip, born nine years after Judd, is the baby of the family and was doted on by everyone. He's always been the irresponsible trouble-maker who needed to be bailed out of one predicament or another every few years. His parents always took care of him. After college everyone went their own ways, as is so often the case, getting jobs, boyfriends, girlfriends, and eventually husbands and wives. Paul, the eldest, joined dad in the family business, giving him a feeling of superiority.
The animosity between the siblings festered providing the impetus for them to keep their distance. The siblings rarely saw each other for long periods of time, mostly keeping tabs through phone calls with mom. Spending seven days together under one roof, much of the time in the same room together, forces many of the misapprehensions and animus to the surface. Pain, anger, sadness, indignation, despair, even joy all mix together in an ever-expanding balloon ready to explode at any moment.
Jonathan Tropper 's story is filled with realistic characters readers will recognize from their own lives. The feelings, thoughts, annoyances and memories are easy to relate to and understand. If the Foxman family doesn't resemble our own family, we see them in others we have known over the years. The issues of estrangement, avoidance, favoritism, and competition between siblings aren't unique to the Foxman Family but are found to some degree in many families. Tropper 's realistic vehicle of using the father's death to bring everyone together makes interaction unavoidable and, therefore, confrontation inevitable. But that same confrontation may be the best way to clear the air in this dysfunctional family for whom emotions run high. Resolutions don't necessarily mean the Foxman siblings end on good terms but Jonathan Tropper hasn't written a fairy tale. He has written a complex and authentic story about a family that reluctantly comes together during a crisis.
Tropper has an amazing talent for writing riveting dialogue that is, at times brutally honest and at other times, caustically funny. In fact, there are many humorous anecdotes and passages in this novel that caused me to frequently laugh out loud. The humor is a refreshing reprieve from the sadness and tension that occurs throughout the story. But in a novel about a man struggling to assess why his life is falling apart and face some realizations about himself, as well as cope with his family's sudden acrimonious unity, uncomfortable, awkward and intense situations are unavoidable.
I really enjoyed This is Where I Leave You and found I didn't want to put it down once I started reading it. Tropper's writing is so engaging and personal that I felt like I was meeting and getting to know Judd and the Foxman Family personally. The characters come alive through Judd's memories and in his interactions with them. Some of them seemed familiar to me and those that didn't I wished did, such as Judd's outspoken, quirky and loving psychologist mother. During the story, I found myself rooting for different characters at different times, one minutes loving Judd, for example, and 5 chapters later wishing I could shake him while giving his wife Jen a hug. I experienced the gamut of emotion from joy to sadness and everything in between while reading Jonathan Tropper's latest novel. If you enjoy an engrossing story with genuine characters and a roller-coaster of emotions, This is Where I Leave You is a book for you.
I won this book, a signed hardcover copy, from Sheri on her wonderful blog, A Novel Menagerie. Thank you so much, Sheri!