Thursday, 7 April 2016

'This is Where I Leave You' by Jonathan Tropper (2010)

Synopsis: This is Where I Leave You is a contemporary family saga novel. Judd Foxman is a man in his mid-thirties and has recently discovered that his wife has been having a year long affair with his boss (a sleazy Howard Stern-like radio DJ). As if Judd's life couldn't get any worse he then finds out that his father has died of cancer. However, Judd is then informed that his father's dying wish was for his family to sit shiva (a Jewish ritual in which bereaved family members come together under the same roof and receive friends and condolences) for the seven days after his funeral. As Judd's father was a secular Jew who only attended synagogue on special occasions this comes as quite a surprise to everyone and Judd isn't much looking forward to the experience. Nevertheless he returns to his childhood home in Westchester County, New York and re-unites with his slightly estranged mother and three siblings who are all going through problems of their own. His mother (a famous psychologist) is harbouring a guilty secret, his older brother Paul and his wife are desperately trying for a baby, his sister Wendy is the frustrated housewife of a workaholic businessman, and his younger brother Philip is an irresponsible wild child who is now engaged to a much older woman (who is also his therapist). With this dysfunctional family all being forced to spend time together it isn't long before the simmering resentments and tensions between them are brought to the surface but over the course of the seven days the Foxmans ultimately re-connect, realise how much they all love each other, and find meaning and significance in the ritual of shiva.

I must confess that I only found out about this book after seeing the trailer for its film adaptation. This is Where I Leave You is an adult contemporary novel and is therefore not at all the sort of book that I'd usually go for but the trailer made it look like such a hilarious and fun story that it made me want to step out of my comfort zone.

Overall this book was an engaging read but I had very mixed feelings about it and I actually enjoyed the film adaptation more (and yes I did read the book first!) The book was touching at times, there were some meaningful themes and profound, thought-provoking observations in the writing, and I did find it funny. The book never really made me properly laugh out loud but it certainly had me smiling and sniggering. Philip and Hilary were my favourite characters in this book since they seemed to get all of the funniest/craziest lines and moments :D

But unfortunately I also found this book to be very problematic at times and that affected my enjoyment of the story. The narrator Judd is constantly lusting after the women that he sees in this book and, although I got that this is only because he's sexually frustrated and lonely, this did start to become annoying and repetitive after a while. And I was also very weirded-out by a sex scene in this book. Judd's sister-in-law and ex-girlfriend Alice is so desperate for a baby that at one point she sneaks into Judd's room and tries to persuade him to have sex with her. Judd makes it very clear that he's uncomfortable with the idea and even says "no" but Alice completely ignores his objections and forces herself onto him anyway... which makes it a rape scene. But what really bothered me was that afterwards Judd and Alice barely acknowledge what's happened between them :S It's not that I think rape shouldn't be presented in fiction - even though I do tend to avoid stories which feature it - but it's something that needs to be handled with respect and sensitivity and to be completely essential to the plot. It's not at all something that should be handled in a light, casual manner and the fact that this book didn't treat it with the care that it deserved was extremely disappointing.

But happily I liked the film adaptation of this book much more! The film is mostly accurate to the book - which isn't surprising given that Tropper also wrote the screenplay for it - but the issues that I had with the book weren't there. The film does feature a few voiceovers from Judd but we don't get to hear his thoughts about the women he sees, and although Alice still attempts to seduce Judd in the film the scene plays out very differently. She's interrupted before it can lead to anything and later apologises. Also the actors in this film - including Jason Bateman, Jane Fonda, Tina Fey, Adam Driver, and Rose Byrne - were all perfectly-cast in their roles and had excellent chemistry with each other. They really brought out both the pathos and humour in the story and made me laugh a lot :) I've given the book a 3/5 rating but for me the film was more like a 4.5/5 because I really enjoyed it.

Rating: 3/5

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