“Man, does anybody like you?”
After some heavy book, I picked up Jonathan Tropper’s The Book of Joe for a good laugh. That said, I am surprised that it’s a book with enormous heart, humility, and wit, despite all the humor. This is the type of book that which I always want to read passages out loud. If I’m on vacation, sitting by the pool with this book, I would have finished it in one sitting.
Nineteen eighty-six was a fine time to be a teenager in love. Unemployment was down, the stock market was up, and people were generally optimistic. We listened to happy European synth pop: Depeche Mode, Erasure, A-Ha. The boys tucked the bottoms of their stonewashed Gap jeans into their high-top Nikes, gelled and cut wedges into their hair, and tried in vain to incorporate the moonwalk into their limited dance repertoires. The girls teased their hair high with mousse, wore iridescent skirts with matching eye shadow, fishnet shirts off one shoulder, and anything they saw in Madonna’s videos. Things were so peaceful, they had to send Rambo back to Vietnam to look for action. We had no Internet or grunge bands to dilute our innocence with irony, no glorified slackers or independent films to make darkness appealing. Happiness was still considered socially acceptable. (Chapter 12)
The book is about Joe Goffman, noveau rich author, whose bestseller novel has salvaged his entire hometown with exaggerated proportions, returns to visit his father in sickbed. Within hours of his arrival, his return ignites a maelstrom of reactions from those whom he had trashed in the book. He got in trouble with the law, been assaulted on two separate occasions, and and met up with an ailing friend, who wields his outsider status as a weapon to insulate himself.
A few blocks before we get to Wayne’s house, I hear a change in his breathing and turn to find him staring out the window, weeping quietly. I look back at the road, feeling like an intruder. He opens his mouth as if to say something, but all that emerges is a series of sharp, anguished sobs that rack his frail frame, and he makes no effort to wipe away the shockingly robust tears that run in slow motion down his face. (Chapter 14)
This is a page-turner, but I don’t want it to end. Despite all the laughter, it’s the first book in several years that had me in tears.