Friday, April 26, 2013

The least Orthodox shiva you will ever sit

Book: This Is Where I Leave You
Author: Jonathan Tropper
Published: 2010 (Plume)
Pages: 339

Dysfunctional family lit fic could use less stylistic frills. I didn’t know that until I read this book. It’s about a guy who catches his wife cheating on him with his boss and then has to go sit shiva with his non-Jewish family because his dad died and wanted them to (except it turns out it's his sexpot therapist mom who says he wanted that so she could bring the family together).

There’s nothing unusual here except how real all the discord feels without going into depressingly sharp focus a la Jonathan Franzen or fuzzing everything over with sentimentality. Without getting metaphoric or Hallmark-card obvious, Tropper makes good arguments several times a chapter about why family should have to earn its bonds and how it’s both easier and way harder for them to do that with each other than with the outside world.

He also details how it feels to jam a birthday cake with lit candles up his cuckold’s ass and how shiva chairs are lowered to get the mourners closer to the ground while giving the absolute worst views of their visitors sitting in normal chairs, so, you know, he got his fun in there too.
But it’s not all about perspective, and thank fuck for that, because real people feel real things and get hurt and deal with it in weird ways and Tropper’s right there to show how they normalize it into a straightforward but deep account of dealing with about seven different kinds of loss all anchored to this big one.


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