This Is Where I Leave You: A Novel
368 pp., 17.00
I'm a little behind the curve on this one. Jonathan Tropper's novel This Is Where I Leave You, published in 2009, was included on Best Book of the Year lists by a zillion outfits (The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, etc.); the paperback appeared last summer. I caught up with the book over Thanksgiving.
Tropper's hero is Judd Foxman. Just weeks after Judd has been cuckolded by his beloved wife, his father dies, and as the novel opens he is heading home to sit shiva with his three siblings ("Paul is my older brother by sixteen months," Judd explains; "we get along fine as long as we don't spend any time together") and his mother, a cleavage-flashing shrink who made a fortune with Cradle and All: A Mother's Guide to Enlightened Parenting, which features detailed accounts of, among other things, all four of her kids' toilet-training traumas. It's a good set-up, the five Foxmans trapped together in a house all week: the siblings try to be on good behavior for about three minutes, and then everyone regresses. There are fist-fights, illicit seductions, and, of course, a few requisite revelations.
The novel is deliciously funny, but, as in the best comic novels, there is sober insight lurking in the humor. Foxman's account of the "quotidian resentments" that build up between married couples is hilariously rendered (Judd is sure that when he and his wife had sex, she was half-thinking about "how I never managed to fully close my dresser drawers in the morning, which didn't bother me but somehow threatened the delicate balance of her entire universe"), but after I stopped laughing, I found myself a little sad, pondering the ironic problem that the toothpaste left curdling in the sink represents: here is the person you love best, your most intimate of intimates, and so much emotional energy goes into frustration about the toothpaste and the dresser drawer.
All in all, This Is Where I Leave You made for apt Thanksgiving reading. Whenever I found myself annoyed at some member of my extended clan, I thought about the Foxmans, and by contrast, we Winners seemed kind-hearted, generous, as loving as could be.
Lauren Winner is an assistant professor at Duke Divinity School. For the academic year 2010-11, she is a visiting fellow at Yale's Institute for Sacred Music. Her book A Cheerful and Comfortable Faith: Anglican Religious Practice in the Elite Households of Eighteenth-Century Virginia is just out from Yale University Press.
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