” None of us makes eye contact. We have pretty much had it with each other. We are injured and angry, scared and sad. Some families, like some couples, become toxic to each other after prolonged exposure. ” (44, 298)
Morton Foxman died, leaving behind a 63-year-old widow (Looking Jane Fonda-ish), who is a shrink and expert on parenting and four grown-up children (who Judd the narrator thinks are screwed beyond repair). Hillary Foxman decides to take advantage of her husband’s death to hold a weeklong shiva, which marks the first time that the entire clan meets. As the family comes together reluctantly, with spouses, kids, and girlfriend in tow, one conspicuous absence is noted with sourness and curiosity: Judd’s wife, Jen, who left him for a popular misogynist blowhard radio personality that happens to be Judd’s boss, Wade Bolanger.
Death is exhausting. Whether it’s from the trauma of burying my father or from spending the entire day in close proximity to my family, I barely have the energy to take my pants off being collapsing on the mostly opened sofa bed, my legs tilted upward… (9, 78)
The story unfolds with breakneck pace through the eyes of Judd Foxman, who is grappling with the loss of his father and the collapse of his marriage. (It ended with paramedics and cheesecake.) Between the comings and goings of mourners, banterings, quipping, and fighting, long-standing grudges resurface and secrets are revealed. Despite the permeating humor, hysteria, and wisecracks, one sees how the Foxman siblings always struggle trying to confront an honest emotion, but fail consistently, because the hardwiring just runs too deep.
Sometimes it’s heartbreaking to see your siblings as the people they have become. Maybe that’s why we all stay away from each other as a matter of course. (48, 321)
The domestic, under-one-roof setting is a perfect device to draw on the eccentric cast of characters that make up the dysfunctional family and force them to cope with their suppressed feelings. Paul tries to keep afloat the sport good business his father left behind, while his wife squanders a fortune on her quest to fertility. Wendy has a full plate with two boys who never take more than two minutes to destroy a room, while her work-driven husband is completely oblivious to family matter. Philip, the yougest, is the one who walks in to the party like he’s walking onto a yacht—so vain and yet deceiving. His latest love is a cougar.
We are thinking about our kids, our lack of kids, about finances and fiancées and soon-to-be ex-wives, about the sex we’re not having, the sex our soon-to-be ex-wives are having, about loneliness and love and death and Dad, and this constant crowd is like the fog on a dark road; you just keep driving and watch it dissipate in your low beams. (15, 106)
This is Where I Leave You is wickedly and riotously funny, barely leaving me room to breathe. Beneath all the humor is emotion so raw despite being repressed for so long. Whether these siblings like it or not, the blood relation binds them all through thick and thin. As the week of mourning the patriarch moves toward reconciliation, appreciation, and rapprochement, there awakened in each one of the Foxmans a nostalgic sense of childhood, which seemed permanent then. As they shoveled the dirt onto their father’s coffin, it dawns on them the impermanence of everything. Tropper’s strong suit is wisecracks, the more irreverent the better. And that he gives snarky allure to the narrator’s observations keeps me engrossed.
339 pp. Trade Paperback. [Read/
Skim/ Toss] [Buy/ Borrow]