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This is Where I Leave You    by Jonathan Tropper order for
This is Where I Leave You
by Jonathan Tropper
Order:  USA  Can
Plume, 2010 (2009)
Hardcover, Softcover, CD, e-Book
* *   Reviewed by Rheta Van Winkle

How is it possible to laugh out loud many times while reading such a sad book? This is Where I Leave You, after all, is about a family that gets together to mourn their husband and father, who has died of cancer after a long, agonizing, painful illness. Judd Foxman, our hero, joins his brothers Paul and Phillip, his sister Wendy, and their mother to sit shiva for their father Mort.

This is one messed up family, and Mort's death doesn't contribute much to their unhappiness. The eldest sibling Wendy has a rich husband who puts his job so far ahead of his family that he can seldom detach his ear from his cell phone, while Wendy struggles to deal with two wild little boys of three and six and an eight-month-old baby girl who screams every night when she's put to bed. Paul, the next oldest, the son with the most promise when young, suffered a horrific dog attack that left him unable to finish college. He still feels pain in his damaged shoulder and has taken over the business that was started by their father. Phillip, born nine years after Judd, spends his life avoiding responsibility and chasing girls. Judd has recently broken up with his wife and quit his job after he caught her in bed with his boss, and learns just before going home for his father's funeral that she is pregnant with his baby.

As the family gathers for the funeral, Judd doesn't know how he is going to live through seven days of sitting on low chairs in his mother's house, while friends, neighbors and relatives come to commiserate with them. His wife has been carrying on her affair with his boss for a year, but it's only been a few weeks since he discovered them in the act in his bed and moved out. As Judd explains, 'My marriage ended the way these things do: with paramedics and cheesecake.' The chapter that explains this enigmatic statement is one of the funniest and saddest in the book. We do laugh to keep from crying, and many times in this story an incident will turn from funny to tragic or vice versa without much warning. The shock alone might be enough to cause laughter.

Sex plays a big part in the story, too. Judd gets himself into some tricky situations, partly caused by his own bumbling, but also the result of just being back in the house and town where he grew up. So many people come to pay their respects that he can't believe it. 'And still they come. Everyone we ever knew in our lives, pouring through the doors out of a sense of friendship, duty, community, or simply to secure reciprocation when it comes their turn to mourn.'

Among all of those people are old girlfriends and the daughters of friends of his mother, who seems intent on fixing him up with someone new before he's even gotten used to losing his wife to someone else. There are people hitting on his mother, as well as a lot of sneaking around at night going on among his brothers and sister. We are not always amused, and the descriptions of the older characters made me wonder if we all become caricatures once we get fat, flabby, or over sixty. Surely all men don't stay constantly horny into their seventies or all women try desperately to continue to look youthful well into old age.

It's a funny book with reservations. It's a sad book with lots of laughs. As we get to know the Foxman family and their friends, we feel sorry for them as often as we laugh at them. Perhaps, by the time they spend a week together mourning their father, they will all grow a little closer to each other. Perhaps they will find a little more happiness in their own lives, or at least, perhaps Judd will.

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