I could probably count the number of books that have literally made me laugh out loud on one hand, if I were to keep track of such things. Jonathan Tropper’s This is Where I Leave You is one of those books. It’s ironic because the storyline doesn’t seem like it should be funny at all. The book opens with Judd Foxman, the narrator, learning that his father just died. His sister tells him that his dad’s last request was for the family to sit shiva, a mourning period in the Jewish religion when people come to the house to pay their respects for seven days. Their mother is famous for writing a book about how to raise children. She’s a psychologist, has breast implants, and dresses like she’s 40 years younger than she is. Being the dysfunctional family that they are, Judd, his two brothers, and sister dread having to spend a week together.
Judd especially dreads going home, because he recently walked in on his wife having sex with his boss. And not just any sex, but porn-star-like sex during which she was making noises he had never heard her make before. It was her birthday. He brought her favorite cake home. His life is falling apart. To top things off, as he’s leaving the basement apartment he now rents because he has been cuckolded, his wife shows up to tell him she’s pregnant.
This sounds like pretty heavy stuff. How could it possibly be laugh-out-loud funny? Tropper sets up scenes that surprise you the way seeing someone unexpectedly fall surprises you. You know you shouldn’t laugh. It’s inappropriate. But you can’t help it. For instance, when Foxman catches his boss on top of his wife, he throws the cake on his boss’s humping posterior, lit candles and all. Unbeknown to Judd, his boss used some cream on his genitals to heighten the sexual experience. The cream was flammable. I’ll let you read the rest. Over the top scenes that make you lose your breath are not the only thing Tropper has going for him. His dialogue is exceptional. The interplay between siblings and their mother is hilarious.
Although the antics pretty much never stop, Tropper creates characters that you really care about, because they are so human. Judd’s wit and — although he pretends to be lost — his insight create the emotional pull of the book. As he tries to process losing his father and marriage, Judd stumbles on thirty-something wisdom with all its contradictions, regrets, and intricacies. He states, “Sometimes, contentment is a matter of will. You have to look at what you have right in front of you, at what it could be, and stop measuring it against what you’ve lost. I know this to be wise and true, just as I know that pretty much no one can do it.” And it’s not just Judd that the reader starts to care about. Each of Judd’s siblings holds a mirror up to us as well: wanting to relive the past, holding on to resentment, refusing to grow up.
It's a little bit The Big Chill with a Jewish family, and it's a little predictable in places, but I still loved it. This is simply a fun read. It’s funny. It’s human.Powered by Sidelines