Tag Archives: Jonathan Tropper

GIVEAWAY: Audiobook of ONE LAST THING BEFORE I GO by Jonathan Tropper

I would like to give away my audiobook of One Last Thing Before I Go, by Jonathan Tropper (reviewed here). If you’d like a chance to win, leave a comment here and I will pick a name at random on Tuesday, September 11.

Good luck!

ONE LAST THING BEFORE I GO by Jonathan Tropper


I am a usually a fan of Jonathan Tropper. I’ve read three of his books – The Book of Joe (reviewed here), How to Talk to a Widower (reviewed here), and This Is Where I Leave You (reviewed here). I was excited to read his latest book, One Last Thing Before I Go, especially after reading some positive reviews. I just finished it, and I have to say, I was pretty disappointed.

One Last Thing Before I Go is about Drew Silver, a 42 year-old formerly successful drummer living in New Jersey. Silver is divorced from his ex-wife Denise, has been a lousy father to their daughter Casey, and is living in a depressing bachelor pad in an apartment building full of other middle aged divorced guys. All of a sudden, Silver blacks out, and finds later when he wakes up in the hospital that he needs an operation to repair his aorta, or he will face a certain death in the near future. This news is delivered by his ex-wife’s fiance, a successful doctor who has basically replaced Silver in his ex-wife and daughter’s lives.

All of the ingredients for a Jonathan Tropper novel are here: a wry, underachieving, and emotionally stunted male protagonist; a long-suffering but hot and conflicted ex; Jewish parents; friends who converse in sarcastic and cool (but secretly affectionate) quips; a fistfight; screenplay-esque writing; and barbed but dead-on commentary about suburban life. This time, though, I felt like Tropper was mailing it in. The plot was repetitive (Silver disappoints his daughter; he redeems himself; he disappoints his daughter; he redeems himself). Despite all of his flaws, both physical and emotional, Silver gets three women to hook up with him in the course of the book. He is a fundamentally selfish person, caring little about the feelings of others, and I found that I didn’t care whether he decided ultimately to have the life-saving surgery he needed or not. Finally, the book needed more editing. I found the same sentences popping up chapter after chapter, making me want to scream, “I GET IT!”

This is a shame, because Tropper at his best can be utterly un-putdownable.

There are passages in One Last Thing Before I Go that are sheer brilliance, and prove that Tropper observes and understands modern life perfectly. For those passages alone this book may be worth reading. But the parts in between are pretty tedious. A lot of people have enjoyed One Last Thing Before I Go (see New Dork Review of Books (who agrees that this isn’t Tropper’s best) and S. Krishna’s Books), but it just didn’t do it for me. Maybe I have tapped out on Jonathan Tropper? Whatever it was, I think this wasn’t his best effort.

I listened to the first half of the book on audio and read the second half. The audio is quite good – excellent narration by actor John Shea. Unfortunately, good narration couldn’t redeem a mediocre book.

I wish I were more positive on this one! Thanks to Dutton for the book and to Penguin Audio for the audiobook.

Interviews with J. Courtney Sullivan and Jonathan Tropper

I have recently read a few interviews with authors that I like a lot, and thought I’d share them here.

First is an interview with Jonathan Tropper from The Forward. In it, he reveals that he is recently divorced from his wife, the status of the various screenplay adaptations of his novels, and the roots of his interest in writing. I am 1/3 through his latest novel – One Last Thing Before I Go, which I am listening to on audio.

Second is a New York Times interview with J. Courtney Sullivan, author of Maine (reviewed here). She reveals what’s on her nightstand, her greatest influences, and her definition of the perfect novel.

Enjoy!

Q & A With Jonathan Tropper At Politics & Prose

Tonight I had the great pleasure of hearing Jonathan Tropper read from his latest book, This Is Where I Leave You, and answer some questions. I've been a fan of Tropper's for several years – in the three years I have written this blog, he is the only author I've reviewed three times. (Here is the review of This Is Where I Leave You, here is the review of How To Talk To A Widower, and here is the review of The Book Of Joe).

Tropper is as funny in person as he is in his books. Here's what he had to say.

Background: This Is Where I Leave You started out as a different book. Tropper had just gotten a new publisher, one that gave him a lot of leeway, and he set out to write a book about marriage seen through the prism of divorce. He decided to have his main character lose his wife and job on the same day - two of the things that defined him as a man - and set off on a downward trajectory, flailing at age 35. Tropper then wrote a scene where his protagonist went to his parents' house for a birthday party for his father, along with his messed up siblings, and Tropper found that his book really came alive then. He ended up throwing out everything he had written so far, and made the book more about the man's relationship with his family and less about the failure of his marriage. In the interim, he had to kill off the father, turn the birthday party into a funeral, and convert the whole family to Judaism, so that he could take advantage of the seven-day mourning period.

Q: Was Judd Foxman's name Judd Foxman before he became Jewish? No, he had a different name before. Tropper couldn't remember the old name.

Q: Would you ever write a sequel to This Is Where I Leave You? What happens to the characters after the book ends?No, he wouldn't write a sequel. He sees no value to that. Each book is about a specific journey, and there is no use revisiting the characters when the journey is over. There is no fun going back to the same guy to see how he is now. Also, the book got good reviews – no need to bring out another version!

Q: This Is Where I Leave You has been optioned for a movie. Have you thought about which actors should play the characters? No, he's bad at that. He sees his characters as he envisioned them during the year and a half he was writing the book. He doesn't see anyone particular in the roles.

Q: So what DOES happen to these characters in the end? Are you worried Hollywood will slap on a happy ending? All is not healed and redeemed, they don't all love each other in the end. Deep hurts will come out again, and will fester with bitterness. Since he's the screenwriter for the movie version, he's not worried that the ending will be different. He will have to edit, get rid of certain subplots and characters to get the book to fit into a two-hour movie.

Q. What's happening with the film versions of your other books? Everything Changes has been optioned, and Toby Maguire is either going to star or produce it. How To Talk To A Widower is at Paramount. The director and studio can't come to an agreement on the lead actor.

Q: This Is Where I Leave You is more than just a funny book. It really struck a chord with me, emotionally – it seemed like some of the characters came right out of my family. Is it true that you are working on a remake of Harvey with Steven Spielberg? Yes. He already wrote the script for the remake of Harvey, and Spielberg got interested and asked him to rewrite it, so he is doing that. It's an adaptation of the play as a 2010 film, rather than a remake of the original movie. He wanted to tell a contemporary tale – there is not much in common with the original movie.

Q: Have you heard from your former publisher since the success of This Is Where I Leave You? Yes, they have been very gracious. They know that they didn't do all they could with his last book, How To Talk To A Widower, which was a bestseller in four countries but didn't have parallel success here. He was sick of his wife calling him "Hasselhoff".

Q: When you write, do you think cinematically now? No, he tries not to. He has gotten accused of doing so before, but he has always written that way, and in fact tried to make his last two books "non-optionable". (They got optioned anyway). This Is Where I Leave You is hard to adapt – much of what happens does so in Judd's head; the book is episodic; and it's not a typical three-part story. Yet it got optioned anyway.

Q: Which writers influenced you, and which contemporary writers do you enjoy? When he was young, Tropper read a lot of Stephen King books, and wrote stories about vampires. Then he read Jay McInerney's Bright Lights, Big City, and it was like a bunch of light bulbs went off. He realized what you can do with writing. He commends that book, which is brilliant and economical – calls it one of the most brilliant books of the last 20 years. Kurt Vonnegut was also an inspiration. He used mini chapters and paragraphs and colloquial tone, and Tropper thought, "I could do that." (Which of course was wrong.) You don't have to be Charles Dickens or Henry James to write books. Favorite contemporary authors: Richard Russo, Jonathan Lethem, Michael Chabon, Joyce Carol Oates, and ____ Hedges (I didn't catch the name – Jonathan Tropper, if you're reading this, can you leave a comment with the name of this author??). People assume he's well-read – he isn't. He doesn't read when he's writing, and then he doesn't have time to read when he's touring, and then he's writing again, so the books pile up on his nighttable.

Q: Your books are incredibly well-paced. How do you achieve that? He doesn't chart out the plot beforehand. It comes naturally, and then he edits and moves pieces around and changes things when he feels as though the plot has come to a standstill.

I really, really enjoyed Tropper's talk tonight. He's very funny and down-to earth, and I also liked talking to him after the reading, when he patiently signed my four books. Thanks for a great reading!

THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU by Jonathan Tropper

Tropper The first of my vacation reads was Jonathan Tropper’s new novel, This Is Where I Leave You. This is my third Jonathan Tropper book, after The Book of Joe (reviewed here) and How To Talk To A Widower (reviewed here).

This Is Where I Leave Youis about Judd Foxman, a man living in the New York suburbs whose wife has just left him for his boss, and whose father has just died of stomach cancer. Judd ends up sitting shiva for a week at his childhood home, with his mother, two brothers and a sister – his father’s dying request. (Or so says his mom). The book is about that week, and Judd’s interactions with his family and his wife, with whom he is still in love.

This book is firmly in Tropper territory: a thirty-something man who has trouble expressing his emotions except through sarcasm; a dysfunctional family helmed by a gruff, uncommunicative father and a flagrantly inappropriate mother; a flawed romantic relationship; unresolved tensions and issues from high school; a couple of fistfights; and a somewhat plausible resolution at the end. But, like Tropper’s earlier works, This Is Where I Leave You is laugh-out-loud funny, snarky and well-written. The plot flows at a perfect pace. And Tropper skewers everything in his path: infertility treatments, reform Judaism, children’s psychology, and so much more.

I found the passages about Judd’s father’s death to be a little bit trite, though the depiction of the funeral was particularly well-done.

This Is Where I Leave You may be a bit predictable, but it’s a very entertaining read. Highly recommended.

HOW TO TALK TO A WIDOWER by Jonathan Tropper

Vacation Read #1 was How to Talk to a Widower, by Jonathan Tropper. I’d been looking forward to reading another Jonathan Tropper book ever since I read The Book of Joe last year (reviewed here). Tropper is a very funny and entertaining writer, and I thoroughly enjoyed The Book of Joe, the story of a novelist who returns to his hometown to face his past and the people he skewered in his successful novel.

Tropper Like The Book of Joe, How to Talk to a Widower is a poignant, sad book with a lot of dark humor thrown in. Doug Parker is a widower in his early 30s who lost his wife Hailey of two years in a plane crash. He lives in the NY suburbs, where he had moved in with his wife and stepson, and spends his days mourning Hailey, drinking, and feeling sorry for himself. How to Talk to a Widower opens with his sister’s approaching wedding, allowing Tropper to introduce Doug’s dysfunctional but endearing family. In the book, Doug seeks solace in the arms of a married neighbor, debates whether he should assume custody of his stepson Russ, starts dating again, and generally begins to come to terms with his loss.

The best part of the book is Tropper’s depiction of Doug’s grief. Those passages were the most powerful. Doug is adept at expressing, in the simplest terms, how he is so crippled by the loss of Hailey and the ways it affects every part of his life, from what time he goes grocery shopping to why he cannot pursue an offer to develop his weekly column into a novel. Reading this book, I was reminded more than a few times of Lolly Winston’s Good Grief (reviewed here) – How to Talk to a Widower is the less-kind, less-gentle male chronicle of young widowerhood, compared to Winston’s story of a young widow a year after she loses her husband.  Also, Tropper is wickedly funny, and while it may be true that the two protagonists I’ve read of his so far are essentially the same person, I like that person and enjoy reading about him.

Here’s a passage I enjoyed.  Doug and Russ are going grocery shopping together after deciding that Russ will move in with him (sorry for the small spoiler):

Russ and I shop for groceries at the Super Stop and shop. We buy bottles of soda, bags of chips, boxes of pasta, jars of tomato sauce, large quantities of white bread, sandwich spreads, and frozen food, Everything we buy has the maximum amount of chemicals and requires the minimum amount of preparation to eat. We do not compare brands, do not look for circulars and coupons, because we are slated to be millionaires and price is no object. We do not consider nutritional factors, because we are young and slim and sad and beautiful, we shine in our grief, and we will eat what we want, when we want, with utter impunity. We tear through the market like young royalty, like elite fighter pilots, grabbing anything that catches our fancy, intoxicated by the infinite possibilities of this new, alternative family we’ve become. We have been hammered by bad fortune, cut off at the knees, and yet, here we are, rising above it all, floating brilliantly among these suburban housewives who can’t help but flash us admiring glances as they fill their carts with fresh vegetables and raw chickens. We are a sitcom family, a Disney movie, a bold new social experiment.

 

One quibble with Tropper: the women in his book  – especially the ones that the main characters fall in love with – are always sad and damaged. Off the bat – Carly (Joe), Hailey (Widower), and Brooke (Widower) were each hurt – physically or emotionally or both – by men, and it is in this condition that the Tropper’s main characters find and fall in love with them. What’s up with that, Jonathan Tropper? Why do your men need to be saviors? Why are “undamaged” women unappealing?

Overall, I liked The Book of Joe better than How To Talk To A Widower, and as always with Jonathan Tropper, I could stand fewer physical altercations (too many fistfights), but I’m a Tropper fan and am glad I read this one. I definitely recommend it.

THE BOOK OF JOE by Jonathan Tropper

One of the themes I have discussed often in this blog is how authors can draw on their own experiences and relationships for their books without alienating the people in their lives that appear in their books.


The Book of Joe, by Jonathan Tropper (2004), takes this issue head-on.  The protagonist, Joe Goffman, grew up in a small Connecticut town called Bush Falls. After graduating from high school in 1986, he moved away and, in his twenties, wrote a thinly veiled – and extremely critical – novel about Bush Falls.  While Goffman exposed the claustrophobia, hypocrisy and dysfunction of both his family and his hometown, he also took some liberties in the book, giving, for example, the revered high school basketball coach homosexual tendencies verging on pedophilia.

Fast forward seventeen years, and Joe’s father has had a stroke and is on his deathbed. Rich from the success of the book, Joe returns from Manhattan to Bush Falls and unsurprisingly, meets with rage, hatred and physical aggression from his former classmates and neighbors.  The Book of Joe takes place over the two weeks following Joe’s return to Bush Falls.

After flipping through this book briefly in the bookstore, I expected it to be funny, with some wry commentary on high school from someone whose wisdom and maturity had allowed him to forgive and move on.  I wasn’t quite right. Tropper is an extremely funny writer – no question. But this book is darker and sadder than I expected.  Each of the characters is damaged somehow, physically or emotionally or both, and life in Bush Falls (where many of Joe’s classmates inexplicably still live) is as stifling and narrow as ever.  During the two weeks of the story, Joe’s interactions with the key players unearth old grudges, fights and conflicts, and while they are mostly resolved by the end to varying degrees of satisfaction, it’s a bumpy road.

That said, I highly recommend The Book of Joe. Tropper is a very good writer – he’s quite eloquent and has a keen eye for detail. Here’s a sample passage:

I thought that I’d recalled Bush Falls rather well when I wrote the book, but as I drive through the town for the first time in seventeen years, I realize that all I’ve had are superficial recollections, cardboard stand-ins for real memories that are only now finally emerging. The corporeal experience of returning is the trigger to long-dormant memories, and as I gaze around my hometown, I’m stunned by the renewed clarity of what I’d buried in my self-conscious. Memories that should have long since crumbled to dust from seventeen years of attrition turn out to have been hermetically sealed and perfectly preserved, now summed up as if by posthypnotic suggestion. There is a sense of violation in learning that, unbeknownst to me, my mind has maintained such a strong connection with the town, as if my brain’s been sneaking around behind my back.

And, naturally, I enjoyed this description of coming of age in the 80s:

1986 was a fine time to be a teenager in love. Unemployment was down, the stock market was up, and people were generally optimistic.  Things were so peaceful, we had to send Rambo back to Vietnam to look for action. . . .  We had no Internet or grunge bands to dilute our innocence with irony, no glorified slackers or independent films to make darkness appealing. Happiness was still considered socially acceptable.

There’s a bit more physical violence in this book than I would have preferred (bar fights, that type of thing), and at times the characters are just a little too clever, too conversationally adept, to be convincing, but those are small quibbles with an otherwise very rewarding read.

USA Today (full review here) says, “What finally elevates The Book of Joe is that it’s not simply the story of a writer going through a bout of navel-gazing. It’s about memory and the clash between the way we remember things and the way they really were.”

January magazine (first I heard of it too) wrote: “Jonathan Tropper does a first-rate job of conveying the wonder, excitement and heartache that inhabit our high school years, as well as the denial and grudges we harbor in adulthood and the consequences that occur when they collide.”

Next on my Tropper list: How to Talk to a Widower.