Wednesday, September 10, 2014

This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper; The Book-to-Movie is now out on Blu-ray & DVD!

Book Review by:
Sharon Powers.

     Jonathan Tropper, author of This Is Where I Leave You, should be justifiably proud to have his popular book brought to the big screen. We will see the movie come to the big screen on September 12th.

     Jason Bateman will star as Judd, the troubled and cuckolded husband of Jen Foxman. Jane Fonda takes the role and the lime-light as Hillary, the bosom-wielding mother of Judd; Hillary attracts all the licentious men for miles around causing consternation among her children. 

     After watching the trailer (you, too, can watch the trailer below, if you like), I noticed that Jonathan Tropper changed the family name from Foxman, in the book, to Altman for the movie. Also, it is really wonderful that Tropper could do the screenwriting for the movie, as well. I guess we will see how audiences take to this wildly irreverent, pithy and darkly humorous story. Meanwhile, let's take a quick look at the book's synopsis, so we can continue to discuss the very popular book.      

     Judd Foxman quietly sneaks into his house to deliver a birthday cake to his wife. He lights the candles and tiptoes upstairs prepared to sing Happy Birthday to you.... Quietly, he opens the bedroom door and then freezes in place. Shock overtakes Judd as he sees his wife, Jen, and his "radio-shock-jock" boss naked in his bed having sex. Just like that, Judd's marriage is over.

     And then, a second catastrophic event happens. Judd's father dies. Soon, Judd is with his dysfunctional family as they come together for seven days of mourning by "sitting shiva" for his father. The Foxman family are ill at ease since it has been many years since they've all been together under the same roof.

     The Foxman Family should be nervous, because it isn't long before everything is out of control! Judd's mother has had her breasts enlarged. Wearing revealing clothing, all the men, married and single, are ogling and drooling all over themselves, causing Judd consternation. Well-meaning matchmakers try to set Judd up with every single woman around. But then, things get really wild when secrets are exposed, old grudges resurface, sexual passion is rekindled with old flames, and then...Judd's wife shocks everyone with the news that she's pregnant. Plus, there's a shocking twist for another family member at the end of the novel, as well.

     I am not Jewish, so I know little about Jewish rituals and customs. With different religions having different customs or traditions for marking the passing of a loved one, I've seen rosary services, candlelight vigils, wakes for the deceased, post funereal dinners and buffets, and religious church services and eulogies. Thankfully, Jonathan Tropper, fills us all in on he Jewish tradition of "sitting shiva." Here's what I learned learned when I read his novel:

(1) "Sitting Shiva" is the period of time that mourners live together to share the very emotional time following the loved one's death and funeral. The time of mourning is considered a time of spiritual healing when friends and other loved ones visit the family to "make a Shiva call." Everyone shares memories of the deceased, recalling special moments with everyone. Visiting someone who is sitting Shiva is considered "great mitzvah" (an act of kindness).

(2) Traditionally, Shiva occurs over 7 days. Day 1 is counted starting with the day of the funeral. "Shiva," in English translates as "Seven." Modernly, many families choose to "sit Shiva" for fewer than 7 days.

(3) On day one, after the funeral, traditionally, the family eat a "meal of condolence." Foods in a round shape symbolize the need for life to move on. "Shiva Food" is provided by relatives, family friends and even neighbors. If the deceased's family observes Jewish dietary laws, kosher foods are given by those bringing food to the family.


(4) Customs: Traditionally the mirrors are covered; leather shoes are not worn; mourners do not cut their hair (or shave, listen to music, watch TV, or have marital relations--obviously not the case in this novel!); a memorial candle is lit and stays lit for the 7 days; mourner's clothing may be torn (or mourners may wear a black ribbon cut by the Rabbi); small uncomfortable stools or chairs are provided for those sitting Shiva.

(5) Prayer services may be held every day in the home of the deceased where mourners are sitting Shiva. Prayer services are good times to make Shiva calls to the home. Non-Jews as well as Jews are open to participate.

(6) Day seven of Shiva, the last day, is observed just for a few hours. The following prayer may be said: "No more will your sun set, nor your moon be darkened, for God will be an eternal light for you, and your days of mourning shall end." (Isaiah 60:20) At the end of mourning the family can take a short symbolic walk around the block to symbolize their return to society. The Foxman family does this in the book. [6]

     The protagonist, Judd Foxman, is the speaker, here. He has excoriated himself about what a bad father he will be, and then later, we have this short scene. Baby Serena is upstairs crying--her parents have decided to let her "cry it out." Judd has had enough and he states that he is going to check on the baby. Judd's mother says, "They're letting her cry...[Judd says,] [t]hat doesn't make it right." (p. 258) Here's the quote:
SERENA STOPS CRYING the instant I pick her up...She feels almost weightless against my chest in her little pink pajamas. "It's okay," I say softly, and make other idiotic sounds like you do when you're holding a baby. Her tiny fingers find my chin and she latches on with a surprisingly strong grip, like my chin will save her life, like my chin is exactly what she was crying out for. I sit down on the bed cradling her little head against my shoulder, inhaling her sweet baby scent....she is pure and undiminished and beautiful. I lie back on the bed as she sleeps on my chest, listening to her tiny little snores, admiring the soft nub of her unformed nose...when her breathing becomes almost imperceptible, I gently lay her down in the crib and head back downstairs. I crawl under my covers and drift off to sleep, still feeling the warm spot where she lay on my chest. (p.258)
     This gentle, moving moment is perfection. Judd has put away all sense of self and wrapped his perceptions around the sweet baby. He is in awe of the child, of the life and energy emanating from her sweet being. Being a mother, I have held my children, smelled their sweet baby sent, felt their warmth and looked in those sweet faces and seen them--"pure and undiminished and beautiful." Jonathan Tropper really captures this tender and transcendent moment!

     The other thing I like about this scene is, it can be looked at as a metaphor. Sitting Shiva is for spiritual healing and consolation. The deceased's family is not left alone to grieve, but given love and consolation--the very act of being with the family, of praying with them or even just sitting silently, brings a measure of peace to those who mourn. Judd realizes that it just isn't right to leave Baby Serena to cry-it-out all by herself. He picks her up and holds her, comforts her, and in the cessation of her tears, we see healing not only for the baby, but for Judd, as well. This is "great mitzvah," or act of kindness, that mirrors the beautiful purpose for "sitting Shiva."

     First, Jonathan Tropper's writing, especially the dialog, is pithy, funny and poignant. I found the interfamilial interactions had the ring of truth, or authenticity, if you will, to them. I found myself laughing out loud at some of the dialog, even when the situation in the story seemed to call for decorum and being reserved. I suppose it is the same as when you hear laughter at funerals. The tension needs to be broken, not that you find a situation funny--it's more like you make the situation funny. 

     Jonathan Tropper's book is a lot like that. We laugh at the thought of Judd pushing the birthday cake, not in his boss's face, but up his naked backside. Shocking and irreverent and bawdy, but funny, too, if you don't want to cry over the terrible situation of finding your wife in bed with another man.

     Second, "sitting Shiva" is the tool Tropper uses to get us to observe the dynamics of the Foxman family. Shiva keeps everyone under one roof and we watch as arguments unfold, infidelity rears its ugly head, physical injuries and fist fights happen, and secrets explode across the pages of the book. With the end of Shiva, one last bomb of a secret explodes--shocking everyone. What a rip-roaring fun, scary, shocking, risque, and bawdy time we have!

     I have to get this off my chest: I really don't like the name that Jonathan Tropper selected for our protagonist--Judd Foxman. It may not have much to do with the writing style or technical proficiency of authoring a book, but I still just don't like that name. No. I never knew anyone with that name. My dislike comes from the old stage production of Oklahoma...where the wind comes sweeping down the plain.... Oddly enough the song is about a funeral (talk about ironic); don't ya just love those songs about funerals? Anyway, Judd was the bad dude in the play and I can still hear his song even now:

[From youtube 15]

     Second, the other, more troubling thing about the book, is that it jumped about a bit too much for me.Tropper starts out with a chronological progression from his wife's infidelity and the ending of his marriage, gradually unfolding the week of Shiva at the Foxman home. 

Just confusing. [16]
     Here's the problem: Judd shares with us his remembrances of times past, jumping back and forth not only back and forth in time in his mind, but also moving forward in time and then to alternate locations, as well. Add to that, the huge cast of characters in the novel, and it ends up just a little bit too chaotic for me. I do realize that funerals, or as in this case, "sitting Shiva" may prompt a bit of familial disruption. It naturally would. As a reader, however, I don't think its helpful to get so lost that it results in confusion. 

     This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper is slated to open in theaters on September 12, 2014. As pithy and wry as I found the book to be, the movie looks to be filled with slapstick humor and wildly poignant moments. Take a look at the short trailer from youtube and see what you think.


     Directing the movie is Shawn Levy; writing credits go to Jonathan Tropper (for both the novel and screenplay). Starring in the movie will be Jason Bateman as Judd Altman, Jane Fonda as Judd's mother, Hillary Altman, Tina Fey as Wendy Altman, Corey Stoll as Paul Altman, Adam Driver as Phillip Altman, Kathryn Hahn as Alice Altman, Rose Byrne as Penny Moore, and Timothy Olyphant as Horry Callen. [18]

     This book is a book for adults. Children and overly sensitive readers should consider this before reading the book. Tropper's book contains graphic scenes of sex, drunkenness, drug use, infidelity, and physical violence (fighting). The target audience, mature adults, should be fine with the subject matter of the book; indeed, many adults will love this book.

   This Is Where I Leave You, by Jonathan Tropper is funny, and deals with raw emotions in the wake of the death of Judd Foxman's father. All persons deal with the havoc of life and death, marriage, divorce, pregnancy, family, infidelity, and the unbreakable blood bonds of family. Even with the problems, I stated, above, I did enjoy this book, and for these reasons, I rate this book 4.0 stars out of 5.0 stars.


     Thank you for joining me this week as we took a look at Jonathan Tropper's widely-popular book, This Is Where I Leave You. Please join me again, next week as we look at another book. Please take time this week to read a bit of something you enjoy.

Until next time...
This is a double-white Rose of Sharon. [23]

...many happy pages of reading!


[1] "This is Where I Leave You." [by Jonathan Tropper] Retrieved 08-31-14.
[2] "Marshall Turns 31!" Retrieved 09-08-14.
[3] "Sitting Shiva." Retrieved 09-08-14.
[4] "76-year-old Jane Fonda Made His New Breasts!" Retrieved 09-08-14.
[5] "Mitzvah Quotes." Retrieved 09-08-14.
[6] "How to Sit Shiva." Retrieved 09-09-14.
[7] "Deli King of Linden Shiva." Retrieved 09-08-14.
[8] "Hallucinations of Loss, Visions of Grief." [photo of covered mirror] Retrieved 09-08-14.
[9] "Lighting a Candle." Retrieved 09-08-14.
[10] "Family." Retrieved 09-09-14.
[11] "Responsibilities of the Father of the Unborn Child." Retrieved 09-09-14.
[12] "Mitzvah Mission, IV Edition." Retrieved 09-09-14.
[13] "Laugh Out Loud." Retrieved 09-09-14.
[14] "Shhh... Four of the Grossest Secrets about Weight Loss No One Tells You About." Retrieved 09-10-14.
[15] "Oklahoma the Original London Cast (1998)-Poor Jud is Dead." Retrieved 09-10-14.
[16] "Dean Baker: Confusing the Confusion." Retrieved 09-10-14.
[17] "This Is Where I Leave You Featurette." Retrieved 09-08-14.
[18] "This is Where I Leave You." Retrieved 09-10-14.
[19] "This is Where I Leave You." [by Jonathan Tropper] Retrieved 08-31-14.
[20] "A Trip and A Tropper." Retrieved 09-10-14.
[21] "Goodreads Author: Jonathan Tropper." Retrieved 09-10-14.
[22] "Cheesy Double-Bean Chili." Retrieved 09-10-14.
[23] "Pictures From My Garden." Retrieved 09-10-14.