Much to my amazement, I found time to read another book. As an editor and writer, reading is part of my job description, so when I haven't read anything new in a while, I start to look guilty, flinching at the sight of book stores and looking over my shoulder for the writing gods to strike me down.
It's a tough life.
Luckily, it's not as tough as the life I was reading about in said book. Nor is it as funny. This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper has to be the funniest sad book I've ever read.
In my last book review, I mentioned that my favorite genre was autobiography/memoir. While this wasn't a true memoir, it was written as such. That is, the characters were fictional, but the protagonist was writing his story.
And it may have just moved into first place as My Favorite Book.
You see, I like minimalist writing. Witty humor. Inside jokes between the author and the reader. And this book was full of them. Like this little gem:
"The grave digger looks like Santa Clause, and I don't believe for a minute he doesn't know it. With his long white beard and stout build, he has to know the effect of wearing a red and white anorak and how inappropriate the whole getup looks in the Mount Zion Cemetery. When you spend your days putting corpses in the ground, I guess you have to find the fun where you can. But this morning, as we bury my father in a teeming downpour, Saint Nick is all business, even as his ridiculous raincoat makes him stand out like a bloodstain against a sky the color of a dead tooth."
A dead tooth. Have you ever heard such a perfect description of the sky so beautifully built around context and imagery?
Judd Foxman, our protagonist, returns to his homestead along with his three fiery siblings to sit shiva after his father's death. He's recently separated from his wife, who he found in bed with his boss, so he's left to survive the mounds of Jewish women looking to set him up with their daughters/nieces/cousins. Throughout the course of the seven-day shiva, Judd reflects on how his marriage fell apart, how his family fell apart, and how his life will ever be put back together. He's a regular Humpty Dumpty. He reunites with an old fling, fights with more than one sibling, and even uncovers a secret about his mother that rattles his whole concept of marriage.
But despite the horrific sadness of the whole situation, Tropper is able to write with perfectly dry humor so that you find yourself laughing instead of crying. Take Phillip, for example, Judd's youngest brother. The black sheep of the family, not only as the baby of the siblings, but also as the only one willing to express emotion in a house full of stone faced Jews.
“Phillip is the Paul McCartney of our family: better-looking than the rest of us, always facing a different direction in pictures, and occasionally rumored to be dead.”
Or this little remark on lustfull love:
“And even if you didn't fall in love in the eighties, in your mind it will feel like the eighties, all innocent and airbrushed, with bright colors and shoulder pads and Pat Benetar or the Cure on the soundtrack.”
But he also balances the line between perfect sensitivity and bluntness with pieces of wisdom such as:
“You have to look at what you have right in front of you, at what it could be, and stop measuring it against what you've lost. I know this to be wise and true, just as I know that pretty much no one can do it.”
This novel is written right up my ally. Tropper's writing style hits home with me as he describes in plain, colorful English the exact struggles of Judd and his family, friends, and life. He uses vibrant characters and sets them in the worst of events, letting their stubborn, silent, and violent personalities push the rhythm of the story forward, forward, forward.
If you're looking for a quick read about love and death that won't make you cry, check this one out. You won't be sorry.