“This Is Where I Leave You”
When someone says “literature makes my heart sing,” I sense a kindred soul. Readers fall in love with literature and the passion turns into an addiction that borders on compulsion but every once in a while a diversion beckons in the form of a hilariously funny book that makes me laugh so hard I’m afraid I might embarrass myself. That’s what This Is Where I Leave You did to me (after the first chapter I made sure I wasn’t drinking anything for fear it would come out my nose in a snort of laughter). In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever read a funnier book in my life. If a literary prize were to be given for comical fiction, this book would win hands down. I can’t even think of a runner-up…..well maybe Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple, which was notoriously entertaining but not belly laughing funny like This Is Where I Leave You.
Written by Jonathan Tropper, This Is Where I Leave You was published in 2010 and recently made into a movie (the book is probably better but I can’t say for sure because I haven’t seen the film). The narrator of the story is Judd Foxman, a 30-something Jewish guy from the suburbs of New York who has been called home to attend his father’s funeral and sit Shiva for seven days. If that weren’t bad enough, he recently discovered his wife has been sleeping with his boss causing him to lose both his marriage and his job as a producer of a Rush Limbaugh-like radio show.
The story unfolds over a week at the Foxman family home where all four Foxman siblings (Wendy, Paul, Judd, and Phillip) gather to pay their last respects to Mort Foxman, a man who loved his kids but didn’t quite know what to do with them. Mama Foxman, also known as Hillary is a 63-year old psychologist with a penchant for short skirts, stilettos, and cleavage bearing blouses that show off her breast enhancements while touting her best-selling book on how to raise children which is ironic because her own children have so many issues.
Judd Foxman theorizes “that the reason for filling the Shiva house with visitors is most likely to prevent the mourners from tearing each other limb from limb” and he isn’t too far from the truth. Each of the Foxman siblings harbor strong feelings towards each other and tend to use sarcasm and thinly veiled insults to communicate with each other, while forging short-term alliances that are conveniently forgotten when it suits them. To a certain degree, blame lies with the parents and in that way, Judd puts forth “they can continue to screw us up even after they die, and in this way, they’re never really gone.” But, the siblings are adults and the effects of repressed anger and limited communication lie squarely on their own shoulders. Despite the toxicity among the characters, humor seeps in everywhere making the story worth reading if for nothing else, to hear yourself laugh out loud in recognition of your own family squabbles.
The house is like a woman you find attractive at a distance. The closer you get, the more you wonder what you were thinking.