It seems like in the last few years, there has been a sudden surge of novels that feature men struggling with middle age. Close your eyes and throw a Prozac and you'll hit a book with a female protagonist struggling mid-life to "find herself". But men? Seems like a new trend for me, and I'm liking it.
One of these books that totally blew me away was Jonathan Tropper's "This is Where I Leave You", where a middle-aged guy deals with a cheating wife, sitting Shiva for his deceased father, and the forced reunion of his dysfunctional family. Sounds dreary, I know, but I've never laughed so hard in my life. (There is a scene with some naked body parts coming in contact with a fully-lit birthday cake...I almost wet myself.)
Enter the Penguin publicists at SIBA, who made this book one of their top picks, combined with the arrival of the audio from Penguin Audio, and the result would be an extremely excitable Sandy. Let me try to tell you a little about the premise.
Synopsis: Drew Silver is the poster boy for a middle-aged shitheel. In his glory days, his band had one song hit the charts, and it was all down hill from there. Drugs, alcohol, infidelity, depression, and sloth. Predictably, Silver's wife leaves him, taking with her their only daughter. He now spends his life selling his semen to a sperm bank, and laying by the pool of his residence for displaced shitheels, ogling the college girls with his like-minded buddies.
Then his 18 year-old Princeton-bound daughter announces she is pregnant. His ex-wife announces her approaching wedding. And Silver has an "episode", from which he learns that if he does not have emergency surgery on his heart, he will die. Soon. Despite Silver's failings, his family begs him to have the surgery, but Silver isn't sure if his life is worth saving. Maybe he should just try to be the best man he can be for the remainder of his days and leave it at that.
In this ironic, humorous and heartfelt story, one man is faced with his past mistakes and the possibility of making things right with the help of his family, for better or worse.
My thoughts: I never thought I'd say this, but I believe Tropper has bested himself. He takes the general formula he used in "This is Where I Leave You" (humor, dysfunction, poignance and family) and adds more heart, more depth, more consequences of bad behavior. I laughed a bit less with this book, but was filled with more emotion and taken on more mental strolls through my own life. The book forces the reader to reflect on how we have lived our lives and whether we have done fight by our loved ones.
Not that most of us are going to have anything in common with Silver. At the beginning of the book, I couldn't stand the man. He was an immature, self-absorbed idiot. But after being faced with his mortality, he transforms into someone more innocent, earnest and wide-eyed than his formal self, and it is endearing.
At the center of it all is Silver's relationship with his daughter. He loves his daughter and while he knows he has failed her as a father, he wants to give her what he can now. But he also accompanies his father, a Rabbi, on a tour of all the life rituals...a circumcision, a wedding, a funeral, a Bat Mitzvah. He admits to his lingering feelings for his ex-wife. This is the circle of life stuff that hits you right where it counts.
Combined with Tropper's insanely clever and snappy prose, and wise perspective on life, this is a home run you won't want to miss out on.
A few words about the audio production: The narrator, John Shea, was able to completely capture the grizzled, befuddled essence of Silver. I've never heard any of his work before...most of his resume seems to be clustered in non-fiction and spiritual novels, which is ironic since Silver was such a heathen. His voice was pleasant to listen to and I would certainly not hesitate to pick up any of his work in the future.
Audiobook length: 8 hours and 18 minutes (336 pages)
5 out of 5 stars