When the members of the Foxman family are reunited to mourn the passing of their recently deceased father a whole raft of unresolved tensions begin to surface.
Obliged to sit Shiva – the week long Jewish mourning tradition – only helps to magnify imperfections, only helps those tensions to slowly come to the surface.
Told through the eyes of Judd, one of three Foxman brothers, This is Where I Leave You, is a tragic-comic tale comprising generous amounts of regret and longing in which the certainties of the past are always viewed through the prism of a less than certain future.
Introspective is the word. Cuckolded by his boss with the result that he has not only lost the love of his life, but also his livelihood, Judd’s life is in a mess. Tropper chooses to imbue the character of Judd with Catcher in the Rye detachment; Holden Caulfield hits 30.
And indeed wry humour is arguably the book’s greatest strength. Judd’s observations of his family and circle of friends are always sharply observed. In particular the book’s opening, which sees Judd witness to his wife’s transgressions in the marital bed, is a master piece of comic writing.
Throw in a merry-widow of a mother whose cleavage is always on the verge of spilling out and who has recently converted to lesbianism, a glut of relations who are living out their own separate soap operas and what you have is rather beguiling portrait of an everyday dysfunctional family.
For all the witty dialogue and smart-ass banter this novel does have its flaw. For one thing, the structuring of the book into separate days and thereafter into specific times of the day, becomes a mite predictable.
With each of its ‘scenes’ taking place at say 7.30 am or say, 17.40 pm it feels very much as if this book was written with a film deal in mind, which certainly explains the plethora of short, snappy scenes. The result is a sort of hybrid: part novel, part script.
Perhaps the greatest bugbear with this novel is a growing tendency towards sentimentality. As brothers and sisters work through their various ‘issues’ characterisation perhaps becomes a little too Hollywood conscious.
It’s a case of He ain’t heavy he’s my brother. Fine if you like that sort of thing but it won’t be to everyone’s taste. The fact this book is effectively plotless might trouble some readers, too; the endless visits of well-meaning visitors to the Foxman’s house drift in and out of both house and narrative.
In many ways This is Where I Leave You is a curiously static novel, but thanks to a heightened ability to see the folly of human behaviour, Tropper manages to pull this off with something to spare.