Wednesday, February 3, 2010

RAview: This Is Where I Leave You

Jonathan Tropper's This Is Where I Leave You is a character-centered novel that packs an emotional punch. The tone is humorous and profoundly sad at the same time. The narrator's voice (a thirtysomething man who recently caught his wife cheating on him and is back at his parents' old home to sit shiva for his recently deceased father) is so authentic, this reads almost like a memoir, save the occasional too-well-timed-to-be-real irony.

Story line: I would classify this as the male equivalent of chick lit, if such a pigeonholed classification existed. Themes include family, sex, loss, nostalgia, becoming an adult, parenthood, adultery, love. The book is organized chronologically, following the seven days the four adult siblings and mother are sitting shiva. In addition to the present storyline, Judd, the narrator, has dreams and recalls childhood events and times before his marriage fell apart. The pacing is leisurely, mirroring the time the family is meant to be reflecting on the dead but sometimes feel trapped together and forced to face serious drama.

Details primarily help promote characterization--from Judd's mother's too-short skirts to his younger brother's somewhat pathetic habit of quoting pop cultural references at inappropriate times. Language isn't hugely important, but Tropper uses similes--e.g., "the girls are vacant and beautiful and wield their budding sexuality with a certain lack of control, like a toddler with a power tool" and "But this being late August, we get our fair share of men in shorts, showing off pale, hairless legs with withered calves and thick, raised veins like earthworms trapped beneath their flesh who died burrowing their way out"--to help establish characterization. Setting doesn't largely contribute to the appeal of this book, which readers will seek out for its realism, tone, and characterization.

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