In Tropper's latest opus the fictional Foxman family pushes the limits of their - or anyone's - idea of dysfunction, proof positive that authors who are going to portray a dysfunctional family shouldn't skimp on the drama. Because by going all out, Tropper is giving readers a rockin' good read - with benefits.
Be warned: you will laugh. You may not always be proud of why you're laughing, but unless you're a paragon of virtue who can resist all urges to indulge in a little schadenfreude, you will laugh. After all, it's not everyday that a man walks into his own bedroom to find his wife in bed with his boss. Nor is it common for family members to emerge from a religious rite - particularly a funereal rite - with cuts, bruises and a dislocated shoulder. Laughter aside, however, there is plenty to ponder as protagonist Judd Foxman returns to his childhood home to mourn the death of the family patriarch.
Subsequent to learning that his father has died, Judd finds out that non-practicing Jew and sporting goods storeowner Morton Foxman's last request was for his family to sit shiva, a formal mourning period that requires the family to remain together in the family home for seven days. This would not be a problem for most people. But for Judd, his brothers Paul and Phillip and their sister Wendy - whose personal and familial issues would put Dostoevsky's most complicated characters to shame - it is tantamount to impossible.
Even before three generations gather under the Foxman roof the observance includes spouses and their children the fun begins. Prodigal son Phillip, "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," shows up at the funeral and throws himself on the coffin in a fit of spectacularly theatrical grief. This after he apologizes for being late to Rabbi Grodner, inadvertently calling the boyhood friend by his junior high school nickname, "Boner."
Not surprisingly, the Foxman family shiva spirals downhill from there. Partially because, according to Judd, Mort was so emotionally aloof and his wife so inappropriately blunt in her speech that their children lacked even the sketchiest model for polite, socially acceptable dialogue. However, it is from these domestic disasters that the aforementioned benefits spring like flowers from a dung heap. Myriad tragicomic plot twists and personal confessions lobbed grenade-like into the family's core ignite familial interaction and sprout insights into the human condition. Such as this gem: "At some point you lose sight of your actual parents; you just see a basketful of history and unresolved issues." Yes, beneath and around Tropper's wicked sense of humor there is a universal substructure of wisdom that is applicable to all families and blood relationships. Read it and weep and laugh.
This review was originally published in October 2009, and has been updated for the July 2010 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.
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