Monday, August 30, 2010

Can Book Club Books be Funny? Contemplating This is Where I Leave You

I finally messed this up. I scheduled our in-store book club for the last Monday in August because we plan to close on Labor Day at 5. The problem was that I have to go to Utah, leaving the group to fend for itself.

Last week, just before I started this month’s selection, This is Where I Leave You, one of our regulars (let’s call her A) told me that she hated the book. Very, very sexist! She couldn’t wait to hear what another regular (let’s call her B) would think. She would hate it!

I panicked. How did this happen? I read a lot of reviews. I was told time and again that I would love this book. I had been calling Tropper’s book, my #1 book of 2009 that I hadn’t read.

Then I saw B. She told me that at first she wasn’t sure why I had picked this book. But by the end, she decided it was the funniest book she’d read in years.

Now I really am sad that I’m not going—what a spirited discussion this would have been!

Tropper’s novel is actually his fifth, but Dutton really did a good job repositioning Tropper. I saw more than one comparison to Perotta. Now I want to contact the editor (Ben Sevier) and ask how he did it (yes, I know it was a team effort). It’s not really different in style or tone from several of my favorite writers, who hardly get the laurels that Tropper received.

Not that they aren’t totally deserved. The story is about Judd Foxman, who finds out his father (the sporting goods titan of Elmsbrook, New York) has died, just after his wife has left him for another man. The family descends (three two brothers and a sister) on Mom, armed with just about every childhood grievance (and dysfunction).

On Facebook, I mentioned that I ran into my ex-coworker Dan, who had just finished this and was reading Joshua Ferris’s Then We Came to the End, while I had just finished Ferris and was reading the Tropper? It’s a surprising coincidence, but not totally, as they are two very, very funny books that are face out in the front of our store.

And one other connection—if Then We Came to the End is a literary variation of “The Office”, then Tropper’s current novel is, as Lisa Schwartzbaum suggests in her Entertainment Weekly review, the book equivalent of “Arrested Development.”

Lisa Schwartzbaum in Entertainment Weekly
"Tropper steadily ratchets up the multigenerational mayhem, often involving unwieldy lust or vociferous inter-sibling squabbling, with the calm authority of someone who knows his characters from deep within his kishkes — that's Yiddish for 'guts.'

Janet Maslin in the New York Times
In a wry domestic tone nicely akin to Tom Perrotta’s, Mr. Tropper goes on to introduce a darkly entertaining bunch of dysfunctional relatives.

Caroline See in the Washington Post
The Foxman brothers must become men, though, God knows, they don't want to. They want to remain hard-punching, dope-smoking, lighthearted pranksters, but life won't stand for that.

Tod Goldberg in the Los Angeles Times
There's nothing perfect here for the Foxmans -- a father dead and a son cuckolded, and that's just what can be revealed without spoiler -- and Tropper wisely lets these characters exist with -- and without -- dignity.

The group meets tonight, August 30th, at 7 PM. Our next meeting is Monday, October 4th, where we discuss Kate Walbert's A Short History of Women. Both are featured in our fall-winter book club brochure.

PS--I love how Bantam repackaged Tropper's backlist!

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