The rituals of bereavement may vary from culture to culture, but the intention is the same: to honor the dead and comfort the living. Tell that to the Foxman clan, mourners who break all the rules in Jonathan Tropper’s magnificently funny family saga This Is Where I Leave You.
Following the death of paterfamilias and sporting-goods retailer Mort Foxman, these specimen nudnicks — led by a sexy sexagenarian shrink famous for her books on child rearing, along with her four messed-up adult children — undertake the Jewish rites of shivah. Third-born child and second son Judd narrates, and he’s got plenty of headaches of his own, especially after he finds his wife in bed with his boss, a swaggering radio talk-show host. (P.S. She’s pregnant.) It’s amazing what can happen among otherwise nonpracticing Jews in a ritual-clogged, seven-day period of homebound observance while visitors fortify (or at least distract) the dearly beloved with gifts of inappropriate conversation and an arsenal of cold cuts.
At least, it’s amazing what can happen in the hands of the casually brilliant author (his previous novels include How to Talk to a Widower and Plan B). Tropper steadily ratchets up the multigenerational mayhem, often involving unwieldy lust or vociferous inter-sibling squabbling, with the calm authority of someone who knows his characters from deep within his kishkes — that’s Yiddish for ”guts.” The talk is as riotous and pointed as the action is broad. Who knows, maybe the Foxmans live down the street from the Bluths of TV’s Arrested Development? Maybe they once crossed paths at an airport with the Lamberts of Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections? Certainly they’re traceable on the same Google Map of Dysfunctionville.
It’s a no-brainer that This Is Where I Leave You has been snapped up for adaptation into a movie, and the author himself is having a go at the screenplay. But since the menschy soulfulness that infuses Tropper’s writing may be this brimming novel’s most delicate gift of all, I urge with all my heart and kishkes: Read this one! Read and weep with laughter. A