The Family that Sits Together, Stays Together

A local sports talk radio host frequently comments on the importance of family, arguing that at the end of the day, they’re the only people you can really count on…the only people who’ve been with you from the start.  Of course, this is only one half of the story.  Jonathan Tropper‘s most recent novel, This Is Where I Leave You, tells the other half.

This Is Where I Leave You tells the story of a Jewish family, the Foxmans, who gather to sit shiva for their recently deceased father.  The remaining family members are the mother Hillary and her four Children, Paul, Wendy, Judd, and Phillip.  Judd serves as the narrator and main character.  To call the Foxman family dysfunctional is the understatement of the year.  This time is especially trying for Judd because on top of his father’s death, he has just discovered that his wife is cheating on him with his boss.  To complicate matters even more, he doesn’t particularly like spending time with his family.  They have rarely spent any significant time together after leaving home for college, and this seven-day religious observance and forced togetherness will either drive them further apart or bring them closer together (it really is a crap shoot).

Tropper’s novel is an absolute delight to read and almost impossible to put down.  Its humor is infectious, and you’ll most likely find something on every page worth sharing with your partner or the closest stranger in the coffee shop.  There is much heartache in these pages, especially regarding Judd’s life, yet even in this pain, Tropper brings out glimmers of humor.  In his descriptions of a failed marriage, or failing marriages, he provides insight into what it takes to make a marriage work…what marriage truly is.

There is little specific theology here…the Foxmans are borderline atheists and only attended temple because their father made them, for reasons unexplained.  Yet if we can look at the human experience as somehow explicitly theological, then Tropper has crafted a deeply theological novel because it is full of some of the most human characters that you are likely to encounter.  The youngest brother is an eternal screw-up who desperately wants to set his life aright…the older sister is trapped in a loveless marriage that has convinced her that romantic love is useless…the sister-in-law and wife of the oldest brother is so desperate to have children that she is ruining her marriage in the process.

The strength of Tropper’s novel, one of many, is that one or more of these siblings could be members of our own family.  In the course of his narrative, he gives the lie to the old saying, “If you can’t spot the crazy member of your family, it’s probably you.”  In Tropper’s world, we’re all crazy.

Tropper is currently working on a screenplay version of his novel for Warner Bros.  Let the anticipation begin.