Friday, July 9, 2010

Where the author left me

Recently I’ve been thinking about a book nonstop that I finished several days ago. This happens to me from time to time. However, usually I don’t have the opportunity, as I did this evening, to attend a reading and meet the author of a book that holds hostage my brain for days, sometimes weeks, and sometimes years at a time.

It’s not always an entire narrative that captivates my unbridled interest. Sometimes it’s just a scene, a paragraph or a character. In addition, what captivates me need not contribute significantly to the plot. For example, the last scene in “Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” has stuck with me since I read it over a month ago.

The novel currently occupying my brain cells is “This is Where I Leave You” by Jonathan Tropper, and what I haven’t (until tonight) been able to resolve is how I could enjoy the journey and the persona of the protagonist, while at the same time loathing his misogynist and superficial summations of women and what a man wants in a women.

In fact, Judd Foxman has confirmed what I’ve suspected men think all along: if you aren’t a woman who looks like a model, you aren’t much of a woman at all.

But still, despite my disappointment in Judd, I still adored him. It reminded me of my favorite quote from Eat, Pray Love, a book that I initially loved and then wanted to burn at the end of reading it: “I have a tendency not only to see the best in everyone, but to assume that everyone is emotionally capable of reaching his highest potential...I have been a victim of my own optimism. “

Could Judd possibly as big of an asshole as he seemed? Is this really how men are? How they think?

Mr Tropper answered my question. He said, there is a part of all men that are like that. However, Judd is wearing the lenses of a man (and this is on the back of the book so I’m not ruining anything) whose beloved wife has slept with his boss for an entire year and he has just found out about it. He is emasculated, humiliated, and devastated. Of course he is going to look at women negatively.

So Mr. Tropper has rented some sympathy for Judd. But then I realized that had Judd been a woman whose husband had cheated on her, I would have no problem with the male depictions in the book. It is just jarring to read it from a different perspective. The female characters include three adulterous women, a therapist engaged to her patient, and a mother more eccentric than the Barbara Streisand character in Meet the Fockers.

What left me thinking is that despite how empathetic I may think I am, I will inevitably jump to the wrong conclusions sometimes about what motivates people and characters to do what they do and think what they think.

It reminds of a story of when my friend Scott dropped me off at synagogue before Sunday School and I was fretting.

“There’s no way the receptionist actually made the copies or made them correctly. I’m going to just have to do it myself and I’m going to be rushed. I just know it.”

And Scott wisely told me, “Sharna, you don’t know anything.”

And more often than not, he’s right.

Just like, in what I think was the most poignant part the book, Judd realizes what he has thought all along about his relationship with his brother is inaccurate and skewed. I too frequently fall into that pattern and think most of us do.


At the book reading I asked Mr. Tropper if he is Jewish. He said that he is and that it would have been really gutsy for someone not Jewish to write a book about a family observing shiva. Then he went on to dismiss the notion (which I didn’t suggest but many other have) that this is a Jewish book.

Mr. Tropper, this is a Jewish book and on your tour you should consider going to Temple B’nai Beth Israel Shalom Emet Sinai Hillel Tikvah. It’s not just the setting that is Jewish, but the conflicts faced by the characters are Jewish problems. It doesn’t mean that the book is not appealing to all audiences, but “This is Where I Leave You” deals with Jewish apathy, identity problems, intermarriage, faithlessness and dysfunctional relationships between parents and their children.

Besides, the spread that they will have at the JCC will probably be better than that ice coffee you drank at Borders.


And one more thing. It is clear that your characters were not very good Hebrew school students as there is a major theological flaw in your entire Shiva premise. Do you know what it is?


New York Times take on the book


Author's Web Site

1 comment:

Rebecca F. said...

My sister leant me this book about 6 months ago after her office (not a Jewish setting) read it for their book club. Like you, I loved it despite its deeply flawed characters. But I think that's how I was able to identify with it - because while I might enjoy reading about people I wish existed, it's refreshing to read about characters that could very well be my coworkers or neighbors or cousins. Especially when those characters are grappling with traditions that are so familiar to me, whether or not they even understand them.