Thursday, October 2, 2014

Dear Sister Person Book Club: This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper

Alrighty, readers, the Sister Person and I are trying something different this month, and I think it's going to stick. Basically, any time one of us picks a book, the other writes the first review to be posted either on the first or third Thursday of the month, and then the picker responds the following week. Since SP chose this month's books, I'll be posting my take on it today, and then she'll post hers next Thursday! 
Dear Sister Person,

To be honest, I was really iffy about reading This Is Where I Leave You because, as I said via text message, "white people problems," but I tried to wipe that from my consciousness when I started reading it. I'm happy to report that I was successful in my endeavors, at least in that vein, but you know what? I still really hated this book.

This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper
Via Amazon
Over the past couple of days as I finished the novel, I have been thinking pretty much non-stop about it, talking with the Husfriend and my coworkers about it, and I came to this conclusion: if Arrested Development* and Garden State had a drunken one night stand with Steel Magnolias as an awkward third wheel, This Is Where I Leave You would be the spawn from that unfortunate union. It's got the dysfunctional family plus a Manic Pixie Dream Girl! Everyone is unhappy! Nothing really happens! The main character navel-gazes constantly and describes women by their body parts only (creamy necks, smooth thighs, etc.)! The mother manipulates the whole family for her own purposes while showing off her breasts (which are fake)! Sexually-frustrated old men are cockblocked by lesbians!

Ugh.

Now, I did enjoy some aspects of the book. A lot of Judd's observations about disappointment with your life in comparison to what you imagined and the knowledge that you can't fix any of it now that it's happened are incredibly poignant, and many of his other inner monologues - like his realizing the underlying tragedy of growing up - convinced me that Tropper is a very good writer. And the scene where poor Cole's poop lands on his dad's plate made me laugh out loud and think, "Oh, my God, that is totally something that would happen at our dinner table, except we'd probably ask Dad for his expert opinion." I'm fairly certain you had a similar reaction, since, you know, we grew up together in the same damn house. Anyway, most of the characters were exceptionally one-dimensional, but I happened to like a few of them. Hillary, the child psychologist/self-help writer mother, amused me, and the reveal of her romantic relationship with her longtime friend and neighbor, Linda, was probably one of (if not the only) the sweetest moments in the book. Horry was a complex character, suffering from a debilitating brain injury, that could have been used so much more effectively than a plot device. And Tracy. Poor, poor Tracy. She wanted so badly for her relationship with Phillip, the youngest Foxman son, to work that she deluded herself into thinking that it would, despite his obvious propensity for cheating on her with his many, many whores.

And this is where I get livid. Because seriously? Even if Tropper is the most egalitarian, pro-woman person on the planet, this book does not even give you an inkling that the man is any different from the main character, Judd, who spends every single waking second of his godawful life judging women on their appearances and whether or not he'd like to fuck them. He's the ultimate Nice Guy: average-looking, nearing middle-age, and getting fatter because ... age makes you fat? (I'm not really sure, but that's what Judd/Tropper seems to think) but requires all of his women, at least those that he imagines having sex with, be absolute physical perfection. The only women in the novel who are not just disposable sex objects are family (unless you count Jen, his possibly soon-to-be-ex-wife): his mom, his mom's lesbian lover, his sister, and his older brother's wife, Alice** (who of course has sex with Judd because hormones!). Tracy? Too old; being in your forties means you are desperate, no matter how successful you are. Chelsea/Tammy/Random Girl Phil Knows and Has Had Sex With Previously? Desperate and ultimately worthless, but oh, so willing to please a man. Penny? Not Jen, but good enough to screw because ~{*memories*}~. The random women, most of whom are his mother's age, who come to pay respects to his deceased father? Gross and wrinkly with body hair and the gall to not wear bags over their heads. The nerve of some bitches. And then there's this passage:
Never marry a beautiful woman. Worship them if you must, go to bed with them if you can - by all means, everyone should have carnal knowledge of physical perfection at least once in their life - but when it comes to marriage, it's a losing proposition. You will never stop feeling like a gatecrasher at your own party. Instead of feeling lucky, you will spend your life on edge, waiting for the other stiletto to fall and puncture your heart like a bullet.
Fuck. You. Tropper. I mean, if a book could embed YouTube videos in it, he might as well just picked this one and slapped it right on the page:

"If You Wanna Be Happy" by Jimmy Soul

If I was supposed to care that Judd was feeling down on himself because his wife cheated on him with a much manlier (and infertile natch) hunk of woman-hating testosterone, Tropper failed here, because the misogyny displayed by Judd was that much fucking worse than what Jen did. It's this interior feeling of worthlessness that drives many an MRA advocate, one that they can't quite pinpoint, so they place all the blame on those damn walking pairs of tempting breasts. And he could never express it, so he kept it inside, seething slowly until it permeates every part of his being, oozing into his deepest thoughts so that he could not even a see a woman as a person, just a set of arms, legs, and vaginas (My spellcheck thinks that vaginas is incorrect. Spellcheck is dumb.). Hell, it even seems that he hated Jen, a woman he professed to love, from the beginning as she rode across their college's campus on her bike, only she just happens to do the "right thing" by giving him the time of day when he didn't expect it. And then Wendy says this at the end of the book:
Go have some fun while you still can ... Have meaningless sex. Crush women like beer cans. A little misogyny will be good for you.
My entire reaction can be summed up with the following gif:
Via Reply Gif
By the way, there are so. many. awesome WTF gifs on this site. I had a hard time choosing just one.
WHEN WAS HE NOT A MISOGYNIST? Oh, that's right; you don't live in your brother's head, which is probably a good thing for you, Wendy, since you are indeed a lady person and you might have been offended by his constant fuckability appraisals of random women on the street. Or maybe she wouldn't have, since she did give him permission to view women as Judd's Dick Holders (which hilariously reminds me of the Toast's recent Dirtbag Zeus bit, where Zeus calls Ganymede the Official Cup Holder).

I could not get past this underlying theme, Sister Person. The rest of the book was tainted by it. Every page was filled with Judd's hatred of women, even when he was talking about the impermanence of everything and randomly describing his dreams. I can only hope that the movie changes a lot of what I found insufferable about this book, and given that Tina Fey is involved, that's probably what happened. I'm was just for real crossing my fingers as I read this aloud.

Please tell me that the movie didn't have Jason Bateman act like this. I mean, it's bad enough that I realized Michael Bluth was the biggest dick in his family during my last viewing of the series.

Feeling hopeful,

Juju aka Sissybug

* Now, I love Arrested Development. Once, I watched the entire three seasons in one weekend and did not even feel the slightest bit guilty at using my time in that manner.
** If you had sex with a dude, there is no way in hell that I would ever date him, let alone marry him. Granted, this plot point wasn't nearly as gross as Judd constantly noting his mom's boobs. That was creepy.
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