January 18, 2010

A dysfunctional Jewish family lets loose in "This Is Where I Leave You"

I am guessing this will be one of my favourite reads of 2010, and yes I realise it's only January and no, I am not one of those idiot movie reviewers from Asswipe Indiana who proclaims that Police Academy 12 is "the best movie this year!" just to be quoted in the ads. This book is that good.

This Is Where I Leave You is an always smart, sometimes sad, very funny novel about a dysfunctional Jewish family dealing with trust and communication issues as they come together for seven days and are forced to deal with some of their baggage. Wow, nothing there I can relate to at all, let's give that a read, shall we?

This is where I leave you starts when Judd Foxman finds his wife banging his boss, thereby losing both his house and his job, and then learning that his father has died. And then things start to go wonky.

Although the family does't really follow their faith, after the father's funeral (where the gravedigger happens to be a fat bearded guy in a red suit), the family learns his last wish was for them all to follow the tradition of sitting "Shiva" for seven days. Unfamiliar with the concept? Think a Jewish wake, with less booze and more food, with mourners squeezed into kiddie chairs designed to fit Ewoks, and everyone they have ever met coming by to visit. The reason for filling the shiva house with visitors is, according to Judd, to prevent the mourners from tearing each other from limb to limb.

The family kicks the week off with a lunch where one of the grand kids sends poop flying, and Judd says "it is utterly inconceivable that we will survive seven days together here... but as metaphors go, you can't do much better than shit on the good china."

Judd is a wry and glum narrator, dealing with the loss of his father, his wife, and his job. He is forced to spend a week confined with quirky siblings and their Joan Collins-esque mother. On the agenda? Love, marriage, divorce, food, booze, mourning, adultery, infertility, parenthood, old age, old girlfriends, baseball, late-in-life lesbianism, sibling rivalry, old grudges, fist fights, ice skating, a rabbi named Boner, and the bonds of family whether we want them or not.

I like Judd because he is smart and trying to figure stuff out as it all spins out of control. And he is starting over at ground zero: "I am depressed, unemployed, unloved, basement-dwelling, and bereaved."

And I like the book because it is wise and funny with great characters like youngest brother Philip who "is the Paul McCartney of our family: better-looking than the rest of us, always facing a different direction in pictures, and occasionally rumored to be dead."

George Burns famously said that happiness is having a large and loving family in another city. We all know that every family has their quirks (aka their wacky crazy stressful shit). As Judd Foxman works his way through his worst time, he gains some insight and grows up after the destruction of his marriage, which ends "the way these things do, with paramedics and cheesecake."


robertga99 said...

I don't read many books but I think i will read this one now. Thanks for the review.
Have you read "America's Boy" by Wade Rouse? You should read it. Great book!

peachyteach said...

Great review! I think I may just pick this up. Jewish and dysfunction? You're not the only one who can relate. Thanks!

Stephen said...

Thank you for stopping by my blog & leaving a comment... but mostly thanks foe leading me to your blog, which I love & I am now following.
First class wiring & interesting opinions & you are so handsome! What a combo! Wishing you & Alfie & the fiancee the very best from Portland!

injaynesworld said...

You don't have to be Jewish to relate to a dysfunctional family. Is there any other kind? Very compelling review. I just might have to add this to my reading list.

Brahm said...

Thanks for comments guys, and as you can tell I totally loved this book and encourage you all to check it out.

Robert - have not heard of America's Boy, am going to seek it out!

Keep any other book ideas coming, am always looking for great reads!

Bobbie's Babbles said...

I think I may just have to read this!!

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