Tweet: Nothing brings a family together like death and dysfunction. A very funny and poignant novel, expertly crafted and delightful to read.
Jonathan Tropper's This is Where I Leave You is at once hysterical and sad, the story of a dysfunctional family who has gathered to mourn their father's death. At his request, the family will sit shiva together for seven days. Judd Foxman, the narrator and the third of four siblings, arrives at his childhood home with a marriage that has combusted. (His wife who is in the midst of an affair with his boss has just announced that she is pregnant.) The siblings have for years avoided being in each other's company for any length of time. As Judd observes,
"Sometimes it's heartbreaking to see your siblings as the person they've
become. Maybe that's why we all stay away from each other as a matter
As the week goes on, the family unpacks old resentments and misunderstandings, forcing Judd to reassess his role in contributing to the family dynamic as well as the demise of his marriage.
While the family renews their relationships with each other, Tropper perfectly captures the staccato and bravado of sibling banter. I both cringed and laughed out loud at the barbs they lobbed at each other, some in-your-face and others quietly nuanced, designed to substitute for the Foxmans' "patented inability to express emotion during watershed events." Added to the mix is the brashly delivered wit and wisdom of their mother, ironically a psychologist and child rearing expert who harbors secrets of her own.
In addition to the siblings and their mother, Tropper orchestrates a fabulous group of ancillary characters who bring humor and pathos to the struggling family. Each sibling is joined by a spouse or significant other who adds another level of chaos to the mix. For seven days, a menagerie of friends and relatives visit in a steady stream, providing diversion and comic relief as old wounds surface.
By the end, most issues are resolved, but never flippantly. The Foxmans will continue to poke each others' bruises as only siblings who love each other can do. And while Judd does become more self-aware, he still has room to grow. Tropper clearly cares about Judd and this family, and I can only hope that he will write about them in a future novel. They deserve to be visited again.