I remember looking at This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper in bookstores when it was newly published a couple years ago. The premise is that while narrator’s (Judd) marriage falls apart, his non-religious father passes away and the mother tells her four children, who aren’t especially close, that his dying wish was for his family to sit shiva for the full seven days. Although it was really well reviewed, every time I looked at it, I imagined it would be another cynical book about the bleakness of marriage masquerading as a book about death, so needless to say, I never bought it. Then a friend sent me and email stating that Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, and Connie Britton were all going to be in the movie version and the link to the trailer. I knew I wanted to see it, which meant I needed to read the book first, because that’s the way I roll.
It’s a story that embraces mess, and as readers, we watch Judd learn to accept that his life isn’t going to ever fit into the neat box for which he thought he was destined. Tropper is a phenomenal writer: funny, poignant, and at times very raw. He explores the concept of grief, not only for the father, but for the ways each character has to let go of what they thought might be and embrace their present reality, which isn’t easy.
It reminded me of the death education class I took in the fall where we studied the concept of loss as a whole, not just in conjunction with death. We learned that people may define their losses differently, especially at various stages of life and that any kind of loss requires attention and healing, whether it is a sports game as a child (or, let’s be honest, as an adult watching), the loss of a dream, the inability to do something you love, or of course losing a person. The Foxman family is ridiculous and the moments that arise of them all staying under the same roof for seven days will have you laughing out loud, but also connecting with their humanness:
“You have to look at what you have right in front of you, at what it could be, and stop measuring it against what you’ve lost. I know this to be wise and true, just as I know that pretty much no one can do it.”
The title becomes ambiguous and could be the start of a stage monologue with any of us as the lead character: “this” is an emotional space of acceptance, healing. “You” can stand in for any number of things that the characters are learning to let go of. Interestingly, this story has a lot in common with A Tale for the Time Being, though the two books are so different in terms of style and humor, which I guess just points that we’re all human, doing the best we can with what we have. And though it’s sometimes a broken record coming from me, what I love about the structure of story is that it shows us that there is reason to hope. Everything may not end up the way we would have planned it, but as a species, there are ways to make it though and be ok.