This is Where I Leave You, A book review

This is Where I Leave You

I spent the last few evenings and most of today sitting shiva with a family in mourning. I’ve never done this shiva thing before, nor had I been a part of this family before. But after the past few days – about four for me, but the standard seven for the Foxman family – I feel all their losses and yet somehow encouraged to take life on again, with all its twists and ironies and downright injustices. I just finished This is Where I Leave You, by Jonathan Tropper.

Judd Foxman’s marriage is falling apart just as he receives word from his sister that their father is dead. The family is being called together for the funeral and – surprise, surprise – this non-practicing Jewish father decided on his deathbed that he wanted his family to observe the seven-day mourning ritual that consists of sitting in low chairs all day long and having guests call on them to express sympathy. The family will be living together, taking meals together, sitting together, greeting visitors together. For seven days. All together. In one house.

Meet the Foxmans: Judd’s only sister, Wendy, is married, with children. Their older brother Paul is married – to Alice – without children, regrettably. The youngest sibling, in and out of situations the others find preventable, is Phillip, still trying to get his life together. Mother, the newly widowed Hillary Foxman, is somewhat of a celebrity therapist, having written a book of some acclaim on child-rearing. With a professional on child development raising the children, everyone should be strong, settled and emotionally intact, right? Of course not. What kind of novel would it be if we couldn’t all relate to the miscommunications, the bad judgment calls, the words and actions we can’t take back?

Tropper tells his story well. He gets his characters, especially the main ones, into your head realistically. I kept mentally comparing this family and their tribulations to my latest Netflix binge: Parenthood, only this is better. His use of language makes me stop and admire his analogies, his metaphors. They’re not high-brow; they don’t make you feel you need to be preparing for discussion or writing an English essay translating the symbolism, but it’s there, nonetheless, so that you can nod your head knowingly at the little ironies, the little analogies that life presents so truthfully. At least in well-written fiction.

I did what I do when I discover a new writer I like. I checked for more books. And yes, he’s written others, so off I go in search of Everything Changes.

Disclaimer: Until I went searching for an image of the cover to go with the review, I had no idea this novel had been made into a movie. I don’t get out much. I actually had envisioned Jane Fonda as Hillary to some degree in that way that when you read a book the characters can morph a bit but are based on someone you can pull up in your mind’s eye. However, I had Dax Shepard as Judd in my mind, and, as it turns out, he plays Wade. I knew I felt a Parenthood connection. I just connected it wrong. Kinda gotta see the movie now …

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About teachjournalism
I am a high school teacher of journalism, technology and reading. I advise the school's newspaper and yearbook, both student-led publications. Documenting and sharing my experiences is a way of reflecting to improve my own work and and inviting commentary so that we might all benefit. I believe, as I tell my students each year, that we all learn from each other.

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