Do you recall the Great #Franzenfruede Debate of 2010? One of the points brought up in that discussion was that certain fictional subject matter seems to be viewed differently depending on whether it's written by a man or a woman. In making one of her arguments, Jennifer Weiner mentioned that male authors who cover the territory of domestic" or "relationship" fiction don't seem expected to choose between commercial and critical success the way female authors are, and one of the examples she cited was Jonathan Tropper.
Tropper's last novel, This is Where I Leave You, got a pretty good reception from bloggers when it was published and has been on my Kindle for months. When I found a break in my reading schedule recently, I decided its time to be read had come. And Weiner's not wrong; the domestic upheavals and family dysfunction that Tropper details in his story of a week with the Foxman family do seem to be more typically found in fiction written by women. However, the character viewpoint from which the story is told, and the humor and style with which its told, sounded pretty male to me, and I mean that in a very good way.
Men and women tend to react differently to infidelity, and Judd Foxman's reaction to the discovery that his wife has been carrying on an extended affair with his boss is a man's reaction; he walks out on her, but not before inflicting bodily harm on the other guy with a lighted birthday cake. The losses of his marriage and his job are soon followed by the loss of his father, who left a surprising last request: he wanted his widow and children - who have been indifferently Jewish for years - to come together in the family home and sit shiva for him. The week of enforced togetherness among the four adult Foxman children and their outspoken celebrity-psychiatrist mother stirs up family business both old and new - after all, conventional wisdom suggests that a psychiatrist's kids may be especially messed up - and serves to demonstrate that some families get along better when they dont see each other very often.
There are places where the novel is laugh-out-loud funny, and places where it feels emotionally true; in some places, its both. The narration is in Judd's voice, and I liked and empathized with him; I liked most of the characters, actually, even though some weren't terribly likable. And I may be stereotyping, but I thought that the role sex plays in the book marks it as fiction produced by a male. It's not particularly graphic, but it is frequently on characters' minds, shaping their perceptions, and in their conversations; also, the way its perceived and talked about is pretty matter-of-fact, which strikes me as more of a male approach to the subject, and one I was surprisingly comfortable with.
My reading in 2010 was heavily skewed to women writers, and since they do seem more prone to writing fiction with the themes and topics that most appeal to me, I was neither surprised nor bothered by that. Having said that, I tried to shift the balance a bit in 2011, and finding men whose writing comes from a similar place seemed like a good way to start. This is Where I Leave You is the first of Jonathan Tropper's novels Ive had the pleasure of reading, but I'm quite certain that it won't be the last.