Jonathan Tropper’s novel This Is Where I Leave You describes seven days in the life of the comically dysfunctional Foxman family. Called together for the funeral of the family patriarch, the four Foxman siblings and their mother sit shiva and wrestle with the age-old issues and arguments that have dogged their family for years.
Judd Foxman, the narrator, is the second youngest of the four Foxman siblings (along with brothers Paul and Philip and sister Wendy). When he gets the news from his sister that his father has died after a brief bout with cancer, his life is already in shambles. Judd has recently separated from his wife, Jen, after discovering her in bed with his boss, the shock-radio personality Wade Boulanger. Judd and Jen had been together since college, but their relationship had suffered after Jen became pregnant and lost the baby. As Judd packs up and prepares for the two-hour drive to his hometown, Jen stops by his apartment and tells him that she is pregnant. Judd has trouble taking this news well—Wade has not only taken Jen from him but he is now going to be of the father of her child, a role Judd always imagined for himself.
All the Foxman siblings except Phillip, who is the youngest and least reliable, congregate at their father’s burial. The rabbi for the ceremony is Charles Grodner, an old friend of Paul’s whom everyone in the family calls Boner because of his prurient personality as a young man. Phillip shows up halfway through the service and apologizes loudly to the rabbi, addressing him as Boner. After the burial, the family convenes at their home. Judd’s mother is a successful public psychiatrist who wrote a bestselling child-care manual decades earlier. She announces that one of Mort Foxman’s final requests was for his family to shit shiva, the Jewish tradition of mourning for seven days. This is surprising because Mort was never very religious when he was alive. For the next seven days, all the members of the family will sit in their living room and entertain guests passing through to pay their respects.
Judd is the only Foxman who comes home alone. Wendy is married to an aloof financial dealmaker named Barry; they have three children, two young sons and an infant daughter. Paul is married to Alice, an old flame of Judd’s who wants a child but has had difficulty conceiving. Phillip, who has a reputation for being a ladies’ man, shows up surprisingly with a much older woman, Tracy, who claims to be his lover and life coach. An additional presence around the house is Linda Callen, neighbor and best friend to Judd’s mother. Linda’s son, Horry, is a friend of the family with a tragic life story. Growing up, Horry was like a member of the family and was even romantically involved with Wendy for a time, but in college Horry was assaulted in a bar and suffered permanent damage. Now Horry lives with his mother and works at the sporting goods store owned by the family and now run by Paul.
The situation makes for a tense family environment. Bitter wise cracks abound—regarding everything from Phillip’s irresponsible lifestyle to Judd’s collapsing personal life to Paul’s uptight attitude. Violence among the brothers erupts occasionally. Judd gives himself frequent excuses to get out of the house. He does not even have the privacy of his old bedroom—because of the packed house, he has been relegated to sleeping on a couch in the basement. He starts spending time with Penny, an old friend from high school who teaches figure skating during the day and works the night shift the family’s sporting goods store. Penny and Judd have been always been close friends, but they never consummated their romantic feelings for each other. Now, as Judd’s relationship with Jen is ending, it seems this is the time for him and Penny to finally be together.
Judd’s life is thrown further into flux when Jen shows up at the house in the middle of another brawl between the Foxman brothers. Judd still feels bitter over Jen’s affair with Wade, which lasted a year before he caught them in the act. He finds it hard to even talk to Jen; the last thing he wants is to forgive and forget. However, Jen has news that will make their separation even more difficult than it already is: the baby she is carrying is Judd’s. Wade is sterile. Judd does not know how to take the news that he is going to be a father. He feels afraid of bringing a child into the toxic relationship between himself and Jen, so he chooses not to think about it and try to go on with things as they were. He decides not to tell Penny.
Out of all the siblings, Judd and Paul have the tensest relationship. This is mostly due to an incident from their teen years. While at a party, Judd accidentally fell into a bully named Tony Rusco, who promptly kicked Judd in the nether region. As Judd limped home, Paul (a senior in high school at the time and preparing to go to college on a baseball scholarship) pulled up in his car. Paul drove Judd to Tony’s house, where he found Tony in the front yard. Paul punched Tony, but before they could get away, Tony set his vicious Rottweiller on Paul. The dog tore a gash in Paul’s shoulder that required multiple surgeries and skin grafts and effectively ended his baseball career. Judd feels that the whole incident was his fault, but he blames Paul for bitterly holding the failures of his life over his head. The presence of Alice, who got together with Paul after the accident, hardly makes the relationship easier.
Things for Judd become doubly complicated when Alice surprises him alone one afternoon in the basement and demands that they have sex. Alice claims that Paul might be sterile, but he refuses to go to the doctor so they cannot be sure. Alice argues that if Judd were to impregnate her, no one would know. Judd does not want to go through with it, but he has gone so long without making love to a woman that he has little control over his body. Their subsequent lovemaking session is efficiently brief and painstakingly awkward.
Jen is staying at a hotel in town. She wants to meet Judd and talk some more about their situation before returning home. Judd meets her at the hotel...
(The entire section is 2527 words.)