three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
43-Nov-Dec-2009
user_rating: 
0

A-This Is Where I Leave YouA professor of English at Manhattanville College in Purchase, New York, Jonathan Tropper is the author of five novels, including the highly acclaimed How to Talk to a Widower (2007). He is currently collaborating with Steven Spielberg on a remake of Harvey.

The Story: Unemployed and in the middle of a messy divorce after catching his wife in bed with his boss, radio producer Judd Foxman now suffers one more blow: the death of his father from stomach cancer. Surprisingly, atheist Mort Foxman’s dying wish is that his widow and four children sit shivah, the weeklong Jewish mourning ceremony. Descending on their childhood home for the first time in a decade, Judd and his hot-tempered, dysfunctional siblings spend seven days grieving, reopening the festering wounds that drove them apart years before, and—maybe, just maybe—healing.
Dutton. 344 pages. $25.95. ISBN: 9780525951278

Minneapolis Star Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"[A] poignant yet funny meditation on life. … Tropper manages to craft a poignant story without a heavy hand, leaving space for laughter and revelation to exist alongside loss and regret." Kim Schmidt

St. Petersburg Times 4 of 5 Stars
"It might not sound like fun to be them, but in Tropper’s hands this is a sharply funny story rich in both one-liners and insight into the ties that bind us whether we like it or not. … But This Is Where I Leave You isn’t just farce. Tropper is deft at combining comedy with genuine emotion." Colette Bancroft

Cleveland Plain Dealer 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The book does not rise much above nuttiness, though; I wish Tropper had offered insights to temper the zingers. Still, I hope he writes a sequel, because this is one marvelously constructed, hilariously bleak drama about the pathos of everyday life, as told by a terribly endearing guy full of nothing." Anne Trubek

Los Angeles Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Too often these set-pieces of sibling interactions (and the occasional chance sexual encounters with ex-girlfriends from yearbooks past) can be overly madcap—a notable scene includes flying baby poop landing on a lunch plate—and perhaps too intentionally adaptable for the screen. … [But]This Is Where I Leave You is able to transcend any small quibbles by being consistently surprising." Tod Goldberg

New York Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Although Mr. Tropper’s dialogue here is fast and fresh, his book also has ballast. The death of a father would seem to provide that automatically, but it takes a while for these characters to shed their flippancy and understand what has hit them." Janet Maslin

USA Today 3.5 of 5 Stars
"[R]eal and harrowing—when it’s not hilarious. … It’s here that the book is at its weakest, with the kooky clan—an uptight sister, a ne’er-do-well younger brother, and a sexually open mother." Donna Freydkin

Dallas Morning News 2.5 of 5 Stars
"If you stay with the novel, you begin to become intrigued with the fate of Foxman’s badly dented marriage. The novel itself seems, if not dented, just a little off-center, as though Tropper just couldn’t wait to work on the screenplay of a book that seems destined to find its full-throated version in a tenderhearted but deeply vulgar screwball comedy." Alan Cheuse

Critical Summary

Compared by critics to Tom Perrotta and Nick Hornby, Jonathan Tropper deftly merges caustic one-liners, zany slapstick, and raw emotion in this hilarious yet heartbreaking story. Despite the smart dialogue and comedy, Tropper’s plot takes some unforeseen turns, and it soon becomes clear that his characters are more than wisecracking oddballs whose problems can be solved neatly in 350 pages. His ranting and raving notwithstanding, Judd is a genuinely sympathetic man because he truly loves this "darkly entertaining bunch of dysfunctional relatives" (New York Times). Though some critics perceived the ready screenplay behind Tropper’s narrative and others were distracted from Judd’s story by his family’s screwball hijinks, readers will likely be charmed by this funny and moving novel.