‘You think you have all the time in the world, and then your father dies. You think you’re happily married, and then your wife fucks your boss. You think your brother is an asshole, and then you discover that it’s been you all along. If nothing else, it’s been educational.’
Life’s not going too great for Judd Foxman. He’s just walked in on his wife having sex with another man in their marital bed. This other man is his boss. To top it off his dad has just died and he, along with his hilariously dysfunctional family, has to go back to his family home and sit shiva for seven days.
This is, hands down, a major contender for my favourite book of 2012 (read it last month, don’t know what took me forever to write this review). Jonathan Tropper is a casually brilliant author and this is a book that I simply did not want to end. The humour is of a dark black variety and I just could not get enough. The dialogue and comic timing are just perfect; I don’t think there’s anyone else who can do it like him. I know that’s a pretty big claim to make, but I’d like someone to prove me wrong and introduce me to a writer who’s funnier than he is.
So the Foxmans are a funny bunch, with ‘a patented inability to express emotion during watershed events.’ From the very first ‘ass-numbing day of greeting visitors at crotch level’ we quickly learn that they simply do not get along, and perhaps ‘should all just face reality and stop taking [their] meals together’.
We have the oldest brother, Paul, who Judd gets along fine with ‘as long as we don’t spend any time together’; sister Wendy: incredibly cynical and jaded mother of three with a husband who’s too busy bothering about hedge funds and himself to actively participate in the mourning of his father-in-law, and Paul, the youngest of the bunch, who has cemented his place as the family fuck up (‘you’d have to wake up pretty early in the morning to find a drug he hasn’t done or a model he hasn’t fucked.) They are ’emotionally inarticulate’ with major communication issues (‘In my family, we don’t so much as air our grievances as wallow in them. Anger and resentment are cumulative.’), which is funny because their mother is an (inappropriately dressed – read slutty) incredibly liberal and outspoken celebrity psychologist.
The chapters are split into the seven days of shiva and are laced with flashback scenes from significant moments in Judd’s life. The depiction of a marriage in decline is painfully accurate where at first, Judd and his wife Jen ‘knew marriage could be difficult in the same way that [they] knew there were starving children in Africa. It was a tragic fact but worlds away from [their] reality’, but before they know it, standard and perfunctory ‘his-and-hers orgasms [are being] distributed like party favours.’
‘And now I have no wife, no child, no job, no home, or anything else that would point to a life being lived with any success. I may not be old, but I’m too old to have this much nothing.’
When speaking of his boss that’s sleeping with his wife, Judd says ”Wade could not get enough pancreatic cancer to satisfy me.” Whilst you’re sniggering away at the deadpan darkness of this comment, it’s followed by the heart-breaking, ‘It’s a sad moment when you come to understand how truly replaceable you are.’ So despite the wisecracks and often relentless sarcasm, Tropper punches you with these heartfelt moments:
‘You never know when it will be the last time you’ll see your father, or kiss your wife, or play with your little brother, but there’s always a last time. If you could remember every last time, you’d never stop grieving.’
The honesty of that statement just pierces you for an instant. In the midst of this confused collection of troubled people (‘You need GPS to follow the sex lives of this family’) and all the hilarity, Jonathan Tropper makes some really insightful observations about humanity, about life in general and about the hard hitting nature of truth. Looking at his sister, Wendy, Judd says:
‘Now she’s a mother and wife who tries to get her screaming baby to sleep through the night, tries to stop her boys from learning curse words, and calls romantic love useless. Sometimes it’s heartbreaking to see your siblings as the people they’ve become. Maybe that’s why we all stay away from each other as a matter of course.’
Despite, and maybe even because of the Foxman’s buried resentments and permanent scars, there is a twisted love that peaks it’s head after eight tequila shots. An honesty that can bring together the drifting parts and start to mend the fragments of this broken family. Though they’ll probably never be the Bradys in terms of sincerity, you can’t help but think that their version, which is ‘awkward and vague’ at best, is actually better, because ‘even under the best of circumstances, there’s just something so damn tragic about growing up.’
I can honestly say that the humour in this book is effortless, it just flies off the page and I’m in no way surprised that it’s being made into a film (Jason Bateman to be Judd, apparently). Despite his success, I think Jonathan Tropper is underrated. People need to be obsessing with his work more. I can’t recommend this highly enough. And when you’re done, try ‘How To Talk To A Widower’, cuz that’s also effing brilliant. And this is where I leave you….(sorry, had to).