keeperThis Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper
Release Date: August 6, 2009
Publisher: Orion
Source: Library
Rating: starstarstarstarblank_star
Buy It: Amazon | IndieBound

The death of Judd Foxman’s father marks the first time that the entire Foxman family—including Judd’s mother, brothers, and sister—have been together in years. Conspicuously absent: Judd’s wife, Jen, whose fourteen-month affair with Judd’s radio-shock-jock boss has recently become painfully public.

Simultaneously mourning the death of his father and the demise of his marriage, Judd joins the rest of the Foxmans as they reluctantly submit to their patriarch’s dying request: to spend the seven days following the funeral together. In the same house. Like a family.

As the week quickly spins out of control, longstanding grudges resurface, secrets are revealed, and old passions reawakened. For Judd, it’s a weeklong attempt to make sense of the mess his life has become while trying in vain not to get sucked into the regressive battles of his madly dysfunctional family. All of which would be hard enough without the bomb Jen dropped the day Judd’s father died: She’s pregnant. – Goodreads

This is a rare instance in my life where I saw the movie before the book. I couldn’t pass up a Jason Bateman/Adam Driver collaboration, plus Tina Fey was sort of the icing on the cake. My mom heard I’d seen the movie, and, having read the book in our family book club, recommended it pretty highly to me. She doesn’t recommend many books to me, because she knows I tend toward the supernatural and the YA, and she definitely does not, but she recommended Gone Girl to me a few years ago and I loved that book, so I listened. And from the very start, this book had me hooked. It’s hard to hook me these days, which I think is the result of a variety of factors, not least of which is having a very active nine month old who doesn’t let me sit still or take my eyes off of him for more than 15 seconds. Makes book reading hard. I think I’m also in a place in my life where reading about the adventures of teenagers makes me feel disconnected and vaguely jealous, because my life is so far from that right now, and it’s a life stage I’ll never make it back to. So, adult contemporary fiction it is.

As the summary says, this is a story about Judd Foxman and his sad, but hilarious misadventures navigating this horror story we call life. His father has recently passed away from cancer, and his wife is newly pregnant by way of an affair with Judd’s boss. So the story is told from Judd’s point of view, but we get insights into the lives of his family as well. There’s Paul, whose dream of playing college baseball was crushed by a Rottweiler to the arm, who is married to Alice, a woman struggling with infertility who also happened to be the first girl Judd ever slept with. Wendy is the oldest, a stay-at-home mom to three unruly children based in LA, married to Barry, a douchey finance guy with an ever-present Bluetooth earpiece. Phillip is the youngest and possibly the most screwed up, being 9 years younger than Judd and the one babied through life. He is also a playboy and currently dating his former therapist, a woman 15 or so years his senior. The Foxman mother, Hillary, is a psychologist, and true to the theme of children growing up with parents involved in psychology, seems to have given her children more complexes than the average mother. We know little about the Foxmans’ deceased father except through stories told by the kids and through Judd’s somewhat warped memories. Judd’s father, an atheist by belief but a Jew by birth, has requested that his children sit shiva when he dies.

This book isn’t overburdened by dialogue, and it has just lovely, down-to-earth, yet flowing prose that is so very readable and draws you right in. Judd and his family are easy to relate to in that the dysfunction seems so familiar. Tropper’s portrayal of marriage, or any long-term, live-in relationship, really, is very accurate and, again, very relatable. We follow Judd, and through him, the Foxman siblings, through the stages of grief, through their neuroses and insecurities, and we get to watch them either stay the same or be reborn. That makes it sound haughty, but it’s all very human.

The hardest part for me to read was when Judd details the third trimester pregnancy loss he and Jen experienced. The baby, a boy, died after his cord wrapped around his neck, and let me tell you, almost every pregnant woman I’ve ever met has this fear. I had it. Is the baby moving enough? Why haven’t I felt the baby yet? As someone who had a completely uncomplicated pregnancy and delivered a healthy boy, the explanations and details of this part of Judd’s life just broke my heart. Judd sees and recognizes this moment as the beginning of the end of his marriage, a pivotal moment in his life that set him off on another course. So, just know that there will be details, and moments spent in an exam room, and if this kind of thing is triggering for you, just skip chapter 21 entirely.

The only thing that truly bothered me about this book was how Tropper used his skill with description to really go to town on women’s bodies, especially the older ones. Men were usually passed by with descriptors like “bald” or “rail-thin,” but women had their varicose veins and double chins described in painful detail. At one point, he refers to a group of them as “melting ice cream bars.” I just felt that in a story about family and the disillusionment life can bring, it was all so very unnecessary. Women’s bodies are the focus of so many articles and criticisms, and while I assume Tropper is describing the mind of a random thirty-something male very accurately, I wish it hadn’t been deemed necessary at all. Aging is something that happens to all of us, and men are given more of a pass than women for something we humans can’t avoid, and whether someone is seen as aging gracefully or not is their own business. What is done to your body, or isn’t, is up to you, and no one else really deserves an opinion. There is a point in this book where Judd ruminates on the fact that our thoughts are frequently selfish and unkind, and that if someone else were to hear them, they’d know we’re all just assholes in our heads, and to a point, I think that’s true. But it’s something of a pattern in this book, and it stood out to me in a way that seemed unneeded. The other thing that I noticed, but that didn’t bother me quite so much since it seems so prevalent, was that Judd is basically a Nice Guy. He’s only friends with Penny because he thinks she’s beautiful and he likes her, and he gets all upset when he sees her dating guys Judd deems unworthy of her. It’s okay to be just friends with a woman, Judd. Nothing wrong with being her shoulder to cry on while not also simultaneously wanting to get into her pants.

I liked this one a lot. So much. Such a quick and easy read, such an interesting journey to follow, such a great cast of characters. I recommend this one highly.

Finally, some quotes that I just loved:

  • “marrying [my mother] was like joining the chorus”
  • “[my father was] a lifelong member of the Church of Shit or Get Off the Can”
  • “you get married to have an ally against your family”
  • “at some point you lose sight of your actual parents; you just see a basketful of history and unresolved issues”
  • “You never know when it will be the last time you’ll see your father, or kiss your wife, or play with your little brother, but there’s always a last time. If you could remember every last time, you’d never stop grieving.”