Sometimes I see a preview for a new movie and there’s that little tagline, “based on the novel”, that catches my attention. If it looks at all good, I’ll get my hands on the book as soon as I can, because we all know the book is always better than the movie, and I want to read it unsullied. That’s what I did with “This is Where I Leave You” by Jonathan Tropper, and while I’m glad I did, I might have wished I hadn’t just this once. I wonder now if I wouldn’t have liked better seeing the movie first, seeing what parts of the story the script writer and the director choose to distill from the whole, as they always do, without knowing the rest — and then finding the book, and filling in those spaces, learning more about the rich, frustrating, complicated and messy ins and outs of the Foxmans, kind of the way I would have if I’d just met them that week, then heard all the stories the books spells out later. If anything could have brought them more alive than Tropper already has, that might have done it.
But it’s a great book. I liked it a lot, and read it quickly — I was never bored and wanted to find out what would happen next. The characters, particularly the Foxman siblings, all leaped off the page — Judd, who just walked in on his wife sleeping with his boss; Paul, the eldest and most self-righteous brother; Wendy, the older sister with three kids; Phillip, the younger brother who’s a little different than everyone else, on the surface, but not really underneath; their mother, the psychologist who wrote the book on child rearing and looks like a million bucks; and, most of all, their father, who just died, and the reason why they’re all together again, sitting shiva for seven days. When I tell you that there’s a fistfight before the first day is out, you can imagine what the other six are like.
If I had any criticism to make, and it isn’t a real one, it would be that there’s just so *much* going on in this little book, it’s hard to keep up. The siblings each have their own complex story, the parents, the parents’ friends, the wives and the husbands and the girlfriends and the neighbor’s kid, everyone has a complicated backstory, and that’s realistic and it makes it all so much more interesting to read, but whew, by the end you’re feeling like you moved in with the Foxmans for the past week, and in a way, at the end of shiva, you’re just as eager to get the hell away from them as they are from each other. On the last page, I was happy to know this is where I would leave Judd Foxman and his screwed up life. It was nice dipping in to watch it for awhile, but being able to walk away from his mess (the way we can’t walk away from our own lives, and our own messes) was the best part.