Review of “This Is Where I Leave You” by Jonathan Tropper

I haven’t laughed out loud like this from a book in a long time – once even laughing until I was crying. Ordinarily this would be a good thing, except I read this on a packed plane from Tucson to Chicago a couple of weeks ago. My husband was in the middle seat, with nowhere to shrink from his embarrassment as I banged on the seat in paroxysms of hysteria, shoving the book at him and saying over and over, “Oh, read this page, just one more, you have to read this!”…

Here’s the bizarre thing about this book: it has a very similar plot to that of The Believers by Zoe Heller, which I absolutely hated. Tropper, unlike Heller, understands how to get you to love a very, very dysfunctional family.

This Is Where I Leave You begins with the death of the father, Mort Foxman, from metastatic stomach cancer. Their mother Hillary informs them that their atheist father’s last wish was that they “sit shiva” for him. This is a Jewish custom requiring that the family spend seven (“shiva”) days together in mourning before they get back to their regular lives. (The purpose is not only to honor the dead, but to cut off the mourning process, so that families do not spend too much time focusing on death instead of celebrating life.)

So the Foxman children, Judd (34) – the narrator, his older sister Wendy, older brother Paul, and younger brother Philip gather at their mom’s house for the shiva. Paul’s wife and Wendy’s husband and kids also come, along with Philip’s latest girlfriend. Judd’s wife, Jen, is not there because they have separated; he moved out of their house two months before after finding Jen in bed with his boss.

The book takes you through the seven day ritual. Over the seven days, the family, long scattered by school and marriage and jobs, gets to know each other all over again. While this may not seem like a setting for hilarity, it very often is.

There are so many funny things about this book, and so many comical passages that I ran out of stickies twice just marking the ones I wanted to quote. (So I guess I won’t be using all of the quotes!) But the problem is, if I conveyed all the funny bits to you, I would spoil it for you. I want to give you a flavor for the writing, however, so I’ll steer clear of the humor (not easy to do) and go for the bittersweet. In this passage, Judd is imagining having a conversation with his boss. He begins by talking about how he and Jen were wildly in love… at first. Then he continues:

“I want to tell him how he and the love of his life will slowly fall into a routine, how the sex, while still perfectly fine, will become commonplace enough that it won’t be unheard of to postpone it in favor of a television show, or a late-night snack. … how he’ll feel himself growing self-conscious telling funny stories to their friends in front of her, because she’s heard all his funny stories before; how she won’t laugh at his jokes the way other people do; how she’ll start to spend more and more time on the phone with her girlfriends at night. How they will get into raging fights over the most trivial issues: the failure to replace a roll of toilet paper, a cereal bowl caked with oatmeal left to harden in the sink, proper management of the checkbook. How an unspoken point system will come into play, with each side keeping score according to their own complicated set of rules. I want to materialize before that smug little shit like the Ghost of Christmas Past and scare the matrimonial impulse right out of him.”

Evaluation: I enjoyed this book immensely. And while I laughed quite often, it is a book about leaving – whether through death or separation or leaving the past behind or even physically leaving – getting in the car and just driving. So it has some sad moments as well. But really, not too many; it’s more like a Seinfeld episode, in which pathos is just an excuse for another comedy routine. Highly recommended!

Rating: 4.7/5

Published by Orion, 2009

Note: This book was produced as a movie in 2014, starring Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, and Jane Fonda, among others.

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29 Responses to Review of “This Is Where I Leave You” by Jonathan Tropper

  1. Sandy says:

    I have a funny story about this book. I won a signed copy, then donated it to our Adult Literacy League event, then bought it back because at the end of the day I couldn’t let it go! So! It sits on my shelves yet again. I let a friend of mine read it, and she loved it. Said she laughed until she cried. Someday soon, I promise I will read it!

  2. diane says:

    This was a pretty funny book. I like reading about dysfunctional families…LOL

  3. Staci says:

    When you mentioned The Believers I was like…NO! But then I read on and I’m now wanting to get my hands on this book. Sounds like a fantastic read and one that I would so enjoy!!! I love your review style and honestly think you should write a column somewhere and get paid for your wonderful words!!!

  4. Steph says:

    What a great review, Jill! Your enthusiasm was infectious, and you’ve really made me want to read this. The last time I laughed aloud while reading was quite a while back when reading Wodehouse. I have been reading some heavy books of late, so could definitely do with some belly laughs.

  5. bermudaonion says:

    When I met author Leila Meacham she raved about this book, too. I swore I was going to read it right away and it’s still languishing in my TBR pile. I’ve got to get to it this summer!

  6. Great review! This was one of my favorite books of 2009, and I’ve since gone back and scooped up all of Tropper’s other novels. Everything Changes is equally hilarious!

    I loved the character Philip in this book, too. “It was so nice of Bon Jovi to come by.” High, high comedy – but with heart!

  7. Alyce says:

    I’ve seen the cover, but hadn’t taken the time to see what the book was about. I’m impressed that you liked it so much, and love books that make me truly laugh (especially to the point of tears – so rare).

  8. JoAnn says:

    I’ve read a couple other reviews and thought this might be one I’d like… now it’s a must read!

  9. Lisa says:

    I didn’t like The Believers either–couldn’t stand the family. So I’d love to read a book that made me laugh about a dysfunctional family. Although I’ll be sure not to take it on a plane trip!

  10. Nymeth says:

    This sounds so good! I love a good comedy, especially if, as one of the commenters says, it has heart. And like Diane, I have a soft spot for stories about dysfunctional families if they’re done right.

  11. now if I liked The Believers…and I did…will I them totally love..or hate this book?

  12. Julie P. says:

    I got this one last year at BEA when it was one of the hot releases. I still haven’t read it yet. After reading your review, I’m wondering what I’m waiting for.

  13. I don’t yet have this book on my shelves, BUT, I have a birthday next month. I’ll tell J that he’ll lose a point in my secret scorekeeping system if he doesn’t pick it up for me 🙂

    You had me with the laughing out loud on the plane … (that would be the HIGH comedy, right?!)

  14. I loved this book too! It was the first by this author for me but certainly won’t be the last – I truly enjoyed Tropper’s intelligent humor.

  15. This looks really, really good! Oh, boy. As if my TBR list weren’t long enough… Sigh.

    -Lydia @ The Literary Lollipop

  16. This sounds wonderful. Loved your review – as usual. On to the wishlist with it…

    Oh, and I agree with Staci – you should have a column.

  17. Margot says:

    I take back what I said about your best reviews are the ones for books you hate. This one was over the top. I laughed at you laughing. I’ve got to find this book. I want to laugh hysterically too. I agree with Staci and Linda – you deserve to be paid for your good reviews.

  18. Jenners says:

    Oh I’m so glad to hear you say this! I impulsively downloaded this for my Kindle after reading another review about it so I’m glad to hear you found it as funny as the other blogger. I’m so excited to read this now!

  19. Marie says:

    I loved this book too, and laughed out loud like you. When I laughed, I was working at my synagogue job during an evening minyan (held in the library). I can tell you, that went over like a lead balloon. 🙂

  20. Vasilly says:

    I love the sound of this book! Will add to the TBR list!

  21. Ti says:

    Your comparison to Seinfeld intgrigues me. I LOVE that show and sort of wish life was always like it. I think it’s pretty funny that your husband was a captive audience (so to speak) and could not get away from your gushing.

  22. softdrink says:

    I was with you right up until you said Seinfeld. I’ve grown to loathe that show, mostly because it’s on all time, and HB will watch it even if we’ve seen the episode 5 times.

  23. Aarti says:

    I did not know this book was funny! I have definitely read books that made me laugh out loud in public places- almost always with Terry Pratchett 🙂

  24. stacybuckeye says:

    Well I was already going to add this to my list, but your comparison to a Seinfeld episode make me think I need to make an effort to read it SOON! I want to laugh out loud too 🙂

  25. toothy says:

    I LOVE JONATHAN TROPPER!! After reading the Book of Joe he immediately became my favorite author and How To Talk a Widower just further confirmed my love for his books. I haven’t had the opportunity to read This Is Where I Leave You yet, but after reading your review I feel like I need to run out to the nearest bookstore and buy it.

    Just curious since it seems like you’ve probably read ALOT more books than I have, but do you know any authors that have a similar style to Jonathan Tropper? I’ve been looking for a read alike for him since I know I’ll get Tropper withdrawal while waiting for his next book to be released. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!

    Thanks and awesome review!

  26. Jenners says:

    Of course, I had to come back and reread your review now that I wrote my own. Well done!

  27. nonadita says:

    I love this book. A funny story with an unexpectable ending. I think I’m gonna write a review too 😀

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