This Is Where I Leave You: A Novel by Jonathan Tropper centers on the Foxman family as they sit shiva for the family patriarch. The Foxman children come back to their childhood home toting their baggage and the seven days stretch endlessly ahead of them. Their baggage is both tangible- children and spouses and the inevitable tension they can bring to any family gathering - and psychological in the form of unresolved resentments from childhood. Hmmm . . . death with a side of dysfunctional family, anyone?
Judd Foxman narrates the story; in addition to just losing his Dad to metastatic stomach cancer he has lost his job and his wife. If that doesn't sound bad enough, he walked in on his wife and his boss in his bed. For obvious reasons, he is feeling vulnerable and is hesitant to walk into a family event rife with forced conversations and emotional landmines. He has good reason to worry - the Foxman's are irreverent and seem to have no respect for each other's boundaries. As the week progresses, Judd and his siblings relive the embarrassments of their youth and try to settle old scores. The result is a collection of laugh out loud scenes that seem oddly placed amid the week-long ritual of shiva but all the more funny for it.
However, there is nothing slapstick or reductive about this humor - it is smart and funny and at the core of the story there is still a family coming to terms with the loss of their father and husband. It takes real talent to deal with both subjects simultaneously and successfully. Tropper makes keen observations amid a loss we will all face (or have faced)- the death of a parent and how it changes us and our relationships within our family. Interestingly, the Judd's father and in fact his death almost becomes a background to the family drama that plays out over the course of the week. In the end, it is really dysfunctional family with a side of death.
I am not sure my review can do this book justice - please just read it! If you need additional encouragement, please check out these reviews:
The New Dork Review of Books
Rhapsody in Books Weblog
The Book Chick
I read this book last year in hardcover but the paperback releases today July 6, 2010