This is Where I Leave You – Jonathan Tropper (2009)

An enjoyable novel about a family of adult kids and their mother who are all drawn together to sit shiva for their father and husband who has just died. He wasn’t religious at all, but the mother reports that he wanted everyone to be together one more time and so the group agree to this ritual. It’s a Jewish ritual for when someone has died: all the family live together for seven days, mirrors are covered (to encourage focusing on the dead person) and food is provided by others. So, as you could probably surmise, the story involves a lot of threads all being woven together to create a bigger whole.

Thinking this was going to be similar (in a bad way) to Portnoy’s Complaint (something that I was forced to read during grad school and full of whiny characters, meaningless and irrelevant mentions of sex etc.), I was pleasantly surprised when this was actually a very different story. The protagonist is Judd Foxman who is the third of four kids, just separated from his wife who was having an affair with his boss, a shock-jock. At the same time, she is also pregnant with Judd’s child so there is a lot to deal with.

Tropper’s development of the character of each of the siblings was really good – I really felt as though I knew these people in real life by the time I had reached the end of the novel. The dialogue was very believable, the emotions realistic, and the family dynamics true to life.

As mentioned earlier, this story involved lots of different threads being woven together, lots of memories for the siblings bubbling up from childhood with the realistic way that families come together for a short time or an event, and then depart. Living for seven days in one house with my siblings, lovely as they are, would be stressful, and so I thought Tropper’s depiction of a family dealing with the various stresses (enforced time together, the death of the patriarch, newly broken marriages etc.) was really well done.

It seems that Tropper has written quite a few other novels out there, but this one seemed to have the most consistent positive reviews. It was equally realistic and enjoyable, and I enjoyed the story. In fact, I was so stuck in the story that I didn’t even pick up anything else. It seems that I have been so occupied in reading “books that are good for me” (i.e. classics etc.) that it was a nice change to read something that was so fluid to read. I like to challenge myself with the tougher reads, but I must admit that it’s pleasant to “clean the palate” with something light in between.

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