Doug Parker is the kind of guy you want to introduce to your sister. He’s smart, funny, articulate, kind and creative. Well, he used to be all those things. Right now he’s a mess. But in another year or so – when he’s moved beyond sarcastic, lazy, confused, self-indulgent , self-destructive, and self-loathing – and stopped throwing rocks at the bunnies on his front lawn – he’s going to be great. And then you can introduce him to whomever you want.
Jonathan Tropper writes perceptively about men in crisis, men whose generally-okay lives have been smashed by a horrible event which places them on a slide into emotional mess-hood. This book was published a few years ago and it’s one of his best.
Doug is living in Connecticut with his beautiful wife when – BAM! Plane crash. No more wife. We meet him a year later when he is barely able to take care of himself, let alone a sullen and grieving stepson with a fondness for illegal substances and a proclivity for getting picked up by the cops. The stepson is living with his birth father, Jim, but that’s not working out so well and he keeps showing up at Doug’s house (which Jim paid for – awkward). Doug’s twin sister Claire also shows up and soon her abandoned husband is breaking down the door to get to her. Their younger sister, Debbie, is getting married in a few weeks to the law partner of the husband of the bombshell with whom Doug has unwisely begun an affair, so Doug is second guessing his decision to be in the wedding. Doug’s father was a doctor who has “bad days” due to a stroke. When his mother isn’t describing the effects of her husband’s increased post-stroke libido, she’s recalling her glory days as an actress – always helpful in a family overflowing with drama. These are the novel’s major characters (not counting the guy who shows up with a gun), and Tropper imbues them with wit and wisdom as he creates a large cast of fully-realized characters. Somehow, it’s never confusing. It’s just heartwarming fun.
What I love about Jonathan Tropper is his gift for language. He has an unerring ear for dialogue and, by writing in the first person, the book is a riotous and touching conversation with Doug. He’s in pain and impatient with his family because you “crash one stolen Mercedes in front of the police station when you’re fifteen years old and they’ll never let you forget it.” He’s discovered that life in the suburbs, as opposed to Manhattan, is “just a much more sophisticated and elaborate way of being broke.” He has a best friend with “a sloppy, irresponsible streak that made me feel at home.” And about those bunnies: “Oh, calm down. It’s not like I’ve managed to hit one of the little buggers yet.”
Every time I read one of Tropper’s books I think about how they’d make great movies. In fact, “This Is Where I Leave You,” is coming to your local Cineplex in a few weeks, starring Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, and Jane Fonda. I wouldn’t miss it but, even though Tropper wrote the screenplay, I doubt it will live up to the book because he probably had to leave out the description of one character that will forever stay in my head:
“He’s 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.”
Avoid spoiling the fun of the movie for yourself and read “How to Talk to a Widower” this week. Then see the movie. Then binge-read the rest of Jonathan Tropper’s hilarious and wise family sagas.