There’s something a little “Six Feet Under” about the premise of this book: a son whose life is in disarray returns home after the death of his father, only to have to deal with the rest of his dysfunctional family that wants nothing to do with one another. I thought I could get behind something like this, and while the writing is solid and some real, complicated emotions are examined, This is Where I Leave You left me a bit irritated.
Judd Foxman’s life is a mess, what with recently discovering that his wife had been cheating on him with his boss, forcing Judd out of their house and into a dank basement with no job, no friends, and no idea what to do with himself. Now, to top this all off, Judd learns that his father has just passed away, and that his dying wish was for his family to all sit Shiva for him: this is a Jewish mourning ritual that requires Judd and his 3 somewhat estranged siblings to all congregate at their childhood home for an entire week. The Foxman clan isn’t exactly one that gets along well, and shortly after reuniting, all of their old issues surface and tensions are raised. And although Judd may have started out thinking that his life was the worst of the lot, he soon comes to see that if he looks close enough at the lives of his family, they may not be all that put-together either.
Writing characters that are arguably “not very good people”, yet still have them remain likable is a difficult task; many of Jonathan Tropper’s main figures teeter gravely on the line between being “flawed” and being simply aggravating in this novel. Unfortunately, try as I might, I just couldn’t get behind a lot of them, and found myself not connecting or even liking a lot of the characters in this book.
That being said, despite the fact that I couldn’t stand the people that this novel centered on, the mood of it really struck a chord with me; the uncertainty in the face of death, how to act and how to feel, and how to go on with your life after certain things happen to you, or after you’ve found yourself in a place that you never thought you’d be. There is a lack of resolution to a lot of these ideas as well, especially with the open-ended nature of the novel’s conclusion, and I think that this is one of the strongest things about This is Where I Leave You: the idea that we cannot know where to go for sure, all we can know is that though it might be difficult, there are always choices and options for us, even if we feel like there is nothing we can do.
At the end of the day, I appreciated the honesty that was poured into This Is Where I Leave You, as well as some of the bluntness at times. And yet, I wouldn’t say that this was a favourite book of mine by any means. It was good to read, but I’m afraid I will likely forget it quickly, due to my lack of resonance with the characters, and my annoyance with some of their “issues” that they weren’t really willing to work through. This is Where I Leave You is definitely thoughtful and well written, but not a page-turner by any means.
[Be sure to check out more reviews on the Cannonball Read group blog]