The Short Version: Judd Foxman’s dad has died and his last wish was that the family sit shiva. They all have their various problems/quirks: Mom is a renowned child psychologist, Paul a bitter husband, Wendy saddled by three kids, Phillip a womanizing cad – and Judd’s wife has been sleeping with his boss for a year. Oh and she’s pregnant. Seven days together… what could go wrong?
The Review: I read a Goodreads review (link here, if you’re interested) that pitched the book summary as movie trailer. The guy didn’t like the book really – and I thoroughly enjoyed it, personally – but I can’t help but agree with his spot-on analysis. This book is a ‘feel-good’ family film in waiting. Tropper’s bio at the end of the book even says that he’s working on the screenplay. So how does one handle a book that is, essentially, a movie treatment?
By just accepting it, really. The book was recommended to me by my friend Mikaela, a lady with impeccable taste, who said that it was rather predictable but that it made her laugh out loud more often than anything she’d read in a while. And while there are moments that made me roll my eyes (I’m looking at the ‘T’ shit scene), I also did find myself laughing out loud every time I picked up the book.
It’s no surprise to anyone who follows this blog even casually – or anyone who knows me even remotely well – that I’m a fan of family dramas. For me, the dynamics of a dysfunctional family are endlessly fascinating. My own family is dysfunction, although in a happy and loving way. I believe that all families are like that, to be honest, even if you think yours is secretly boring. Why else would this genre of book/play/movie has such a long, sustained existence? Hell, at its heart, Prometheus is in many ways a “why did our parents abandon us?” riff on the genre. But I don’t want to get into such things.
The family quirks are all ticked off in the first 30 pages or so: Wendy is the harried wife with three kids and an asshole businessman husband, Paul and his wife (a high school girlfriend of Judd’s) can’t have a baby and there’s a lingering tension between Judd and Paul, Phillip arrives in a Porsche with an older woman and continually flirts with anything that moves, the mother has breast implants and is brassily outspoken, and the aforementioned marital issues for Judd. And if it feels a little bit like “and now the moment where we set up this character”, well, that’s because it is. There’s nothing remotely unpredictable about this book and Tropper lets you know that within the first 50 pages. He tells you, flat out, that this book will be exactly what you’re expecting. But it’s not about where you’re going – it’s all about how you get there. Your reaction to that statement will determine your reaction to the entire book.
Our main character, our narrator, is a sympathetic character for sure. Judd is the sort of hangdog guy you can’t help but feel sorry for and you want to like him immediately. He’s funny in his observations and not too sorry for himself. You might want to smack him but also you realize he’s got a right to be wallowing a bit. And as a result, you forgive some of the somewhat overdrawn caricaturing at times. You know he’s probably going to get laid at some point in the movie and that he’s probably going to be vacillating in his feelings for his wife. You know he’s probably going to get in a fight with at least a brother if not both – and probably the gentleman who cuckolded him.
I realize that I’m sort of repeating myself at this point. I realize, in that sense, that there’s not a whole lot to say about the book that hasn’t been said/summed up by the idea of “this is a pretty typical family dysfunction story”. There are some surprising moments, I will admit. SPOILERS coming up, although this book is well past the statute of limitations.
Okay, here we go: the mother’s bisexual exploration with the best friend? Definitely surprising. The scene where Alice (former g/f, now Paul’s wife) sleeps with Judd (I’d honestly call it rape, but that’s a distinction and argument I’d rather steer clear of) was definitely surprising. Wendy’s relationship with Horry – Horry’s character in general, really – is fascinating. But generally, it’s all pretty much what you expect.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5. It’s perhaps a little too paint-by-numbers for me to truly find it excellent. However, it’s genuinely laugh-out-loud funny and has a wonderful sense of heart. It doesn’t change anything, it doesn’t do anything new with the genre – but that’s okay. I’d go see this movie with my family – and we’re not big on seeing family drama movies together, unless they’re arty or important like The Royal Tenenbaums or something. It’s the family comedy for the thinking family. Or something. I don’t know. I don’t care, to be honest. I needed something that’d make me laugh and this did the job in spades.