Monday, April 19, 2010

This Is Where I Leave You
By Jonathan Tropper
Orion, $38.99

Reviewed by Nicky Pellegrino

Few books make me laugh out loud but while reading this one there was a point where I laughed so hard I had to put it down. US author Jonathan Tropper actually is that funny.
All his novels follow pretty predictable lines though. They open with an angsty male at a crisis point in his existence. There is always a hilariously messy, larger-than-life family and often an uneasy father/son relationship, the end of a love affair or the end of a life.
This Is Where I Leave You does little to break the mould. It’s the story of Judd Foxman whose life implodes when he walks in on his wife Jen in bed with his radio shock jock boss. This particular scene unfolds over 12 pages or so and it’s the first clue that, while the plot may seem to cover rather a lot of old ground, what you’re getting is still something quite original.
Judd’s life goes on to hit even lower ebbs when his father dies and he’s called back to his suburban childhood home to sit shiva (the traditional Jewish seven days of mourning) with his family. The story takes place over the course of the shiva week as the Foxman clan clash, meet up with old lovers, pick the scabs off old wounds and discover a few surprising truths about each other.

There is something very Nick Hornbyish about Tropper’s writing but possibly that’s only because it’s rare for male novelists to be so comfortable about getting to the emotional heart of the situation. He also seems to have a direct line to the inner workings of the average woman’s mind - in one section where he reveals exactly what goes through a wife’s head during sex the laughs are especially uncomfortable. And, as with his previous novels, there’s a core of sadness here. In This Is Where I Leave You almost every character has failed to reach their youthful promise. This is a story about regret and what-might-have-beens with almost as much pathos as laughter. The humour in it is rueful and wry interspersed with the odd searing one-liner and refreshing bouts of political incorrectness.

So yes plotwise Tropper is sticking much too closely to the same winning formula. But really who cares? Because every time he repeats himself he seems to get even funnier.

Nicky Pellegrino, in addition to being a succcesful author of popular fiction, (her former title The Italian Wedding was published in May 2009 while her latest, Recipe for Life was published by Orion this month), is also the Books Editor of the Herald on Sunday where the above piece was first published on 18 April.

And also from yesterday's Herald on Sunday:


Comedian Irene Pink performs her show Metamorphosis as part of the NZ International Comedy Festival

The book I love most is...
The Dirt by Motley Crue. I can’t lie. The things that Ozzy Osbourne did to out rock n roll The Crue get me every time.

The book I'm reading right now is...
Dry by Augusten Burroughs because my husband, sister and best friends just finished reading it and I’m the next one on the list. I’m easily peer pressured.

The book I'd like to read next is....
The Passion of Ayn Rand by Barbara Branden because I loved Rand’s book The Fountainhead and am a bit taken with a woman who founded a philosophy and had an affair with her biographer’s husband. She must have been busy.

The book that changed me is...
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig because it articulated the idea of “quality” and how it is recognised. My lovely old Dad turned me on to the book as he liked the point, that journeys are the most important part of everything and not the destination. I always recommend it to people who want to look at life in a different way.

The book I wish I'd never read is…
The Bone People by Keri Hulme, not because I didn’t enjoy it, but because I now view smalltown New Zealand as dark, insidious cesspools of anger. Probably shouldn’t open with that the next time I play Riverton.

*For Irene Pink’s event details go to

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