000996In Jonathan Tropper’s novel This Is Where I Leave You, Judd Foxman is going through a very rough patch—adultery, death, job loss and all sorts of family dysfunction.

Judd discovers his wife, Jen, is having an affair, when he walks in on her and his boss, Wade, in flagrante delicto on Judd and Jen’s marriage bed. It’s Jen’s birthday so Judd retaliates by shoving Jen’s cake up Wade’s butt.

Judd quits his job in disgust and moves out of his house only to live in a basement apartment. He’s depressed, getting fat and is about to find out Jen is pregnant. Is the bun in the oven Judd’s or Wade’s?

Oh, and to make matters worse, Morton Foxman, Judd’s father has died after a long illness. Though never a very observant Jew, the Foxman family patriarch had one dying wish. He wanted his family to sit shiva, the Jewish tradition of seven days of mourning.

Amongst the mourners is Judd’s immediate family. There is his mother, Hillary, proud of her fake boobs and the author of notorious book on child rearing. There are also Judd’s siblings—his older brother Paul, bitter and filled with resentment, much of it aimed at Judd. The fact that his wife is Judd’s ex-girlfriend doesn’t exactly help either. There is Judd’s sister Wendy, a mother of three, whose Master of the Universe husband, Barry, seems to be more in tune with his Blackberry than his family. And then there is Judd’s younger brother, Philip, a charming ne’er do well, who brings home is much older girlfriend, a psychotherapist named Tracy.

Yes, this is going to be fun.

What is supposed to be a time of family support, connection and shared memories is actually a time of dysfunction, acrimony, frayed nerves and past family hurts. Paul truly loathes running the family business. Wendy feels overwhelmed and underappreciated, and uses this time of mourning to resurrect a past romance. Philip is still in a state of perpetual adolescence. Dad, Morton, is barely in the grave, and his widow, is flirting with lesbianism. Judd is on the verge of divorce and potential fatherhood, but can’t quite resist a sexy hook-up with an old high school classmate.

Involved with the shiva and officiating the late Mr. Foxman’s funeral is Judd’s buddy Rabbi Charles Grodner. In their younger years, the Rabbi was called Boner, and Judd and his siblings can’t help but call him Boner. Rabbi Boner? It’s a shandeh.

During the shiva, various relatives, neighbors, co-workers and friends visit and pay their respects to the remaining Foxmans. They talk about how much they appreciated the late Mort Foxman. But Judd and his family will have none of it.

Paul is still blaming Judd for ruining his dreams for a college education and for getting to his wife first. Wendy’s three kids just remind Judd that his estranged wife, Jen, is pregnant (and schtupping his boss). Despite the so-called influence of an older and wiser Tracy, Phillip isn’t about to give up his Peter Pan ways. And the merry widow, Hillary Foxman, is not about to put her cleavage away and is fully ready to embrace her late in life Sapphic leanings.

This Is Where I Leave You captures a family in a time of bereavement. There are moments of true poignancy and bittersweetness. Reading Tropper’s novel will probably remind you of the times you lost a loved family member and the myriad of emotions and feelings you went through—denial, grief, anger, joy and nostalgia.

This Is Where I Leave You Will also make you laugh.

Yes, a novel about a man with an adulterous wife, no job, a recently deceased father and a messed up family is pretty damn funny. And the humor comes naturally and is fully in tune with the characters. Nothing rings false.

For instance, in one scene, Judd recalls a time when his mother handed him a tube of KY jelly once she found out her baby boy had discovered masturbation. She told him it would prevent chafing. And of course, she had to do this in front of the entire family. I could totally see Mrs. Foxman doing this. What she sees as motherly, Judd finds absolutely mortifying.

And in another scene, Judd and his brothers steal away from the synagogue during the reading of the Kaddish, prayer for the dead, to smoke a joint in one of the synagogue’s classrooms. The joint’s smoke sets off the fire alarm. Perhaps getting high isn’t the best way to remember your father.

Judd and the Foxman clan make other bad decisions. They often fight. They’re often clueless and selfish. But they also show each other support and offer each other moments of laughter and happiness. All of this gives Judd time to reflect on his life. Yes, things are bad. But maybe they’ll get better.

I thoroughly enjoyed This Is Where I Leave You and I’m happy to know Tropper has other novels in his arsenal. This Is Where I Leave You has also been made into a movie to be released later this year featuring the likes of Jason Bateman, Tina Fey and Jane Fonda. Hmm, do I smell a “Reading to Reels” post?

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