I never would have guessed that a book about a family of three brothers and a sister mourning the loss of their father would be enjoyable and entertaining. Johnathan Trooper’s This Is Where I Leave You is the story of a Jewish family who gets together reluctantly to sit “Shiva” (“seven” in Hebrew for the traditional seven days of mourning in Judaism). The entire story takes place over those seven days.
It was ironic that Chicago Moms Blog and its sister sites decided to review this book at this time (disclaimer: I was given this book) because my husband, like the main character Judd Foxman, buried his father just recently. Without getting too much into Gadget Man’s family details, lets just say that it has been a very, very difficult time, mostly because his relationship with his father was strained, and his relationship with one of his brothers fell apart following their father’s death. In distinct contrast to the Foxman family, my husband’s family did not sit a traditional Shiva following their loss. Trooper’s book describes some of the Shiva rituals such as sitting on low chairs, covering mirrors, receiving guests, sharing cherished memories of the deceased, and reciting Kaddish, a reaffirmation in G-d. My husband’s brother, a non-practicing self-hating Jew and his Catholic wife announced that one evening of a “Shiva” would take place at their home and put out colorful cupcakes and pepperoni pizza (mixing milk and meat is forbidden in Judaism). There were crafts and a moonwalk set up for the children. No one was telling stories of my father-in-law. No one was sharing any sort of emotion whatsoever. Indeed, I believe that had my husband’s brothers sat Shiva, even for a day or two, they would not be estranged from one another as they are now.
Like my husband, Judd’s relationship with his older brother was strained. For years, Judd believed that his brother was unjustifiably holding a grudge. In a moment of clarity, when the brothers finally got together to discuss their feelings, Judd was able to see things from his brother’s point of view. This part of the book really spoke to me. I had been blinded by my husband’s point of view, and never really bothered to look at things from my brother-in-law’s perspective. I had believed that Gadget Man was unjustifiably vilified. I still don’t know why my brother-in-law is so angry with my husband, but I’m much more open to hearing things from another perspective. Thank you, Mr. Trooper, for opening my eyes.
Trooper is adept at pointing out little psychological truths. For example, when Judd’s wife asks him how he’s feeling, he remarks:
Our minds, unedited by guilt or shame, are selfish and unkind, and the majority of our thoughts, at any given time, are not for public consumption . . . We don’t share our thoughts, we share carefully sanitized, watered-down versions of them. Hollywood adaptations of those thoughts dumbed down for the PG-13 crowd (p. 137).
Trooper can be quite poetic at times. When Judd finds his father’s old watch, he remembers clicking the diving bezel around the face of the watch as a child. “The clicks feel different without his wrist anchoring the watch,” he notes. Lines like that brought me to tears.
For links to more thoughts on this book, visit Chicago Moms Blog.