Jonathan Tropper follows a tumultuous week in the life of Judd Foxman as he confronts a dying marriage, a dead father, infertility and infidelity in This Is Where I Leave You. It's funny.
How would you describe the family in This Is Where I Leave You?
They're not a terribly dysfunctional family, but they're a family who were raised with mixed signals about how to express themselves—a father who did not communicate at all, a mother who had no boundaries. That confusion is at the heart of what went wrong in Judd's marriage.
This book is sexually frank. Was that a conscious decision?
It is sexually frank. I know that because when we sent it to my French publisher, they said, “This book has a lot of sex in it.” And I said, “But you're French!” This book is about a guy whose wife has been sleeping with another man for over a year, having a kind of sex she never had with him. Knowing that has done something to him, and he views everything he experiences in terms of his place in the sexual pecking order. I don't know if all men really think about sex this much, but this particular character does.
How much of your characters are drawn from real life?
My characters may come from ideas or people or situations I've heard about, but I tend to construct the characters more out of thin air. A character may have a particular quirk or idiosyncrasy that's drawn from a person I know, but I'm more interested in putting together a psyche myself, and I think it's a lot of fun to write in first person in a voice you don't necessarily agree with.
How do you feel about the comparisons to Nick Hornby and Tom Perrotta?
I have no problem with it. It's pretty good company to be in. I think it's unfortunate that so few men are successfully writing books about families and relationships. Just the fact that we're not women has lumped us together. On my last book tour in England, people kept calling me the American Nick Hornby, but I've never heard anyone here call him the British Jonathan Tropper. I do well by comparison.
Your novels are very funny, but address real sadness. Why?
It wouldn't occur to me to write it any other way. I don't do it with great consciousness. No matter what you're writing about—death, divorce—in every situation that involves more than one human being, there's going to be an element of comedy. Irony is everywhere.