Jonathan Tropper on “This is Where I Leave You”

I got there early for the the Books and Bars Skype chat with Jonathan Tropper, author of this week’s selection This is Where I Leave You. What follows contain spoilers, so read only if you’ve already read the book.

Unsurprisingly, Tropper (pronounced TROPE-er) has a dry sense of humor, though it’s not quite as dark in person as it is in his book, which chronicles a 30-something man, Judd Foxman. Judd’s wife cheated and left him, he lost his job because of it, and his father died and requested the family gather for a week to sit shiva. Wacky hijinks ensue.

Early drafts of the novel only had Judd’s wife leaving. Tropper been writing about the family and realized he liked the characters, and needed to invent a reason for them to exist. Once Tropper realized he wanted to spotlight the family the idea of shiva occurred to him. In one day, he converted Judd’s family to Judaism and killed their father. That was a pretty productive writing day for him, he said.

Existence was the question Tropper started with. If you take a guy who lives in the suburbs who doesn’t have a wife or a job, does he exist? Eventually, though, the novel became about a series of departures: Judd’s wife, father and job all leave him stranded, and he has to figure out where to go from there.

Tropper confirmed one place Judd doesn’t go: back to his ex-wife Jen. Many B & B attendees hoped they’d get back together, but Tropper pointed to the scene in which Judd gets out of bed with her as a defining moment for the character. Will he end up with Penny, then, others wondered. Only after he makes a lot of bad decisions and screws up a lot, said Tropper.

Another common question was “Do men REALLY think like they do in the book?” i.e., with women as sexual objects and opportunities for infidelity. Tropper’s response was, “of all the men I know…yes.” He said it was important to him to write about marriage and infidelity, as well as about situational morality. Were some infidelities more understandable than others? (Yes, most readers agreed.) He hazarded the infidelity rate at 50% (equating it to the divorce rate, probably) and said two of the Foxman siblings were unfaithul, two weren’t. Yet by another accounting, there wasn’t one faithful relationship of all those included. In spite of the male protagonist and the rampant infidelity, Tropper says most of the novel’s readers have been women, and he’s gotten very few angry emails about his characters being sexist.

Further, he noted, whatever the Foxman clan may be, they aren’t dysfunctional, which came as a surprise to this reader. He elaborated by noting there had been no type of abuse in the family. They were simply bad at communicating, and forced into the unnatural group experience of sitting shiva. What family would succeed in that circumstance? He thought them typical, though I think this is a stretch.

Tropper is working now on the screenplay for a movie adaptation. He’s worked on many projects, but says none have yet come to the screen, so he’s cautiously optimistic. He said Greg Berlanti (of Brothers and Sisters and the recently very badly reviewed Life As We Know It) is involved, and the idea of Paul Rudd (!) as Judd has been mentioned.

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