In the span of a short time, Judd Foxman’s marriage falls apart and his father dies. He’s living in a basement apartment while his wife’s boyfriend (Judd’s former boss, no less) takes his place. Upon the death of Judd’s father, he learns one more bit of undesirable information: his father’s dying request was for his wife and four adult children to sit Shiva. They aren’t practicing Jews, but that doesn’t matter. Right away they realize Dad’s crafty plan was to get everyone under one roof.
The entire span of the book, save interjections of memories here and there, unfolds over the seven days of the Foxman family sitting Shiva. They fight, they take emotional stabs at one another, they watch as each sibling tries to deal privately with his and her respective problems. Judd is nursing his separation wounds, while older brother Paul can’t seem to get his wife pregnant. Wendy’s husband is a workaholic who often leaves her to raise the kids alone, while the youngest brother, Phillip, refuses to grow up. When you take a family that’s this disjointed and put them under one roof to grieve, a lot can happen. Secrets get revealed, new secrets form, and suddenly Mom doesn’t seem heterosexual anymore. Huh?
The main thing you need to know about This is Where I Leave You is that it’s not depressing, despite all the information I just shared. It’s entertaining and beautiful. It’s human. The humor balances perfectly to the emotional weight of death, loss, and the desire we all have to get life figured out. I read it in about three days because I couldn’t let this family sit Shiva without me there.