Title: This Is Where I Leave You
Author: Jonathan Tropper
Release Date: July 16, 2010
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Judd Foxman has been having a difficult time of it lately. He walked in on his wife in a compromising position with, of all people, his boss. Now he’s living in a depressing apartment with no job, and to top things off, his father has just died. Judd returns home and discovers, to his surprise, that his non-religious father’s dying wish was for his family to sit shiva, so for seven days, he and his crazy dysfunctional family mourn their patriarch while trying to sort out their own lives.
If I were to use one word to describe This Is Where I Leave You, it’s not one you’d expect based on the summary, but it’s true nonetheless: the book is absolutely and completely hilarious. Judd is completely down in the dumps when the novel begins, for very good reason. He’s always thought his wife, Jen, was too good for him, but the knowledge that she was unfaithful has completely done him in. Tropper has written a completely sympathetic character going through a very tough time without making him pathetic. It’s actually quite the feat because it would be very easy to feel sorry for Judd, to pity him, but instead the reader roots for him to start over again and find some new happiness.
Judd’s family is completely ridiculous, but they never come across as caricatures. Tropper has an incredible ability to write the absurd, yet make it completely believable. Each person in this book leaps off the page, even the secondary characters. The character development in this book is simply stunning; these are real people, living difficult, messy lives. They aren’t perfect, but their flaws round them out and make them whole. I can’t describe how drawn into each character I was; it really is a stunning achievement.
While each person in This Is Where I Leave You grapples with death, they are also dealing with their own lives. The presence of that profound sadness only seems to exacerbate the shortcomings in other areas of their lives. And having to sit together, be in each other’s company for seven days? It’s a pot of resentment and jealousy waiting to boil over. Tropper deals with ancient family history well, making it relevant and never letting the backstories drag.
The sheer wit and grace of This Is Where I Leave You make it worth reading. It’s a snappy read, quick from beginning to end, and completely gripping. In the end, it’s bittersweet as everyone, including Judd, must face the realization that as much as we want to, we can’t control our lives, and we all have faults which we must come to terms with. The author makes it clear that the happy, neat ending we find in most books and movies don’t adapt well to the lives we lead. Though Tropper has always been a talented novelist, this book proves he is on another level entirely. I can’t wait to see what he does next.