Wednesday, August 11, 2010

This is Where I Leave You, by Jonathan Tropper

My Great-Aunt Lil always left a restaurant with her purse filled with sugar and Sweet N Low packets, as well as the occasional foiled-covered baked potato. I still remember the pearl of wisdom she dispensed to me -- with love and affection -- when I was 18. She called me Dolly, and advised me to put on my tightest sweater and go to the library to meet the boys; this, to combat freshman year loneliness.

If you love the eccentric, Yiddishy characters in your own family the way I love mine, you will fall in love with Jonathan Tropper's "This is Where I Leave You." Tropper's narrator is Judd Foxman, who tells his tale with deadpan humor. The story begins as the family gathers to sit shiva for Mort, the patriarch. Judd is one of 4 siblings, and each one arrives to the shiva with his or her own bulky set of family baggage. Despite the Foxman family's inability to communicate effectively on an emotional level, in true Jewish/Yiddish tradition, they spar, and toss barbs and bon mots back and forth like ping pong balls.

Tropper is a master craftsman: although the characters are drawn from bits and pieces of stereotypes, the cast of characters, and there are a lot of them, rings true. The story artfully weaves in and out of Judd's complicated relationships with his wife and each of his siblings, compelling me to read to the very end. The pacing of the story was impeccable. I never had a single one of the I'm-not-sure-I-care-enough-to-read-on moments that frequent my reading these days. It is amazing to me that Tropper can write novels from the male perspective and is able to credibly mine the emotional landscape of his male protagonists in a way that can't help but appeal to both men and women. I'm not positive, but I even think my reading averse husband might even enjoy TIWILY. It's definitely not chick-lit. Is it dude-lit?

I have had the opportunity this summer to reconnect with several parts of my extended family, and the family bonds we strengthened and forged have reinforced the importance family holds for me. Tropper's trope is just that: that those crazy, twisted, and sometimes tortured relationships we have with our family are precious. Aunt Lil passed on years ago, but I still remember her raspy voice as she called to me, and how she used to plant a big one on my cheek, leaving a smear of waxy lipstick. You may not have had an Aunt Lil in your family -- but with any luck you had someone close.

If you're looking for a fun, yet well written, end-of-summer read, I highly recommend "This is Where I Leave You." You might want to check it out from the library. Just remember to put on your tightest sweater before you go.

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