This will be the first time the four of them have congregated in years, and with them comes the baggage of childhood animosities, failed relationships, and the angst of knowing that they all could have done more to maintain contact with one another.
As they gather, however, we see them in their grief, interacting with the visitors and with one another. And intermittently, the first person narrator, Judd, takes us back to those moments in the past when they were at their best…and at their worst.
In the more recent past, Judd bemoans the loss of his nine-year marriage to Jen…and the humiliating circumstances under which it ended: Jen’s affair with Judd’s boss, and the fact that he walked in on the two of them, permanently searing the horror of it all on his brain.
Judd’s humor and cynicism reveal much about his pain, just as the occasional dreams that populate his nights show us some of his greatest fears.
Hillary is a hilarious character, openly displaying her physical assets while issuing proclamations that are reminiscent of her best-selling book about parenting, a tome that still embarrasses her children and reminds them of the teasing they suffered years before.
I liked that she was open and seemingly unafraid, and that each of her children have inherited some of that candor from her, even though it often comes across as sarcasm and cruel banter. Then again, sometimes they cling to secrets and hide their true feelings, like any family. Does this make them dysfunctional? Why do they all cringe when their mother expresses herself? Below the surface lies their inability to truly connect with one another, and for a family with supposed openness, why are they such poor communicators when it comes down to it?
While grieving their father, Judd is also learning new information that will complicate his divorce from Jen and make moving on a challenge. Paul and his wife are dealing with issues of infertility, while Wendy’s husband is a consummate workaholic who ignores her most of the time. Phillip is still reveling in his role as the “baby,” but at some point, he must grow up. How will each of them find a way to accept their loss, while dealing with how much their own families are in a state of disarray?
A wonderful foray into one family, This Is Where I Leave You: A Novel shows all of its flaws and foibles, a reminder that even at its worst, family can offer our best chance at a feeling of belonging. 5.0 stars.