Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Book of Joe by Jonathan Tropper

Now that I'm all of 25 pages into The Book of Joe, the second book I've read by Jonathan Tropper, I think it's safe to say that he has family issues!  The construct of this novel is reminiscent of This is Where I Leave You--a father has suddenly taken ill and the family is gathering by his bedside.  The protagonist in the story (surprisingly named "Joe") is heading home for the first time in 17 years, and is full of trepidation.  He now has to face both his family and various friends and acquaintances who were featured in a book he wrote that was made into a major motion picture.   I'm gathering that the portrayals were not flattering. 

This is Where I Leave You immediately engaged me with its humor.  Tropper seems more thoughtful in The Book of Joe, such as when Joe thinks about two of his high school friends whom he wrote about in his book as he makes his way home.  "Time doesn't heal as much as it buries things in the undergrowth of your brain, where they lie in wait to ambush you when you least expect it.  And so, as the years passed, Sammy became little more than an exhibit in the museum of my memory, and Wayne was reduced to an enigmatic hologram fading in and out of perception."    Who hasn't experienced feelings like this when they contemplate making a return to their past?

A little later in the book, when approaching town, he is shocked when all the memories of his childhood creep up on him.  "Memories that should have long since crumbled to dust...turn out to have been hermetically sealed and perfectly preserved, not summoned up as if by posthypnotic suggestion.  There is a sense of violation in learning that...my mind has maintained such a strong connection with the town, as if my brain's been sneaking around behind my back."   Again, who hasn't experienced these types of feelings when returning to home?  All our family dynamics are somehow still intact and most of us revert to form, notwithstanding that we are now adults ourselves. 

As the book progresses, you find that life hasn't left any of the characters in this book unscathed.  The story weaves between the past and the present freely as Joe meets up with the people who were portrayed in his book.  (As an aside, the font in the book changes when you revert to the past.  Empire Falls also used this device to help the reader keep track and I admit to finding it helpful.)   Just as in This Is Where I Leave You, the book ends without everything being wrapped up with a neat little bow on top, but with hope for the future.   A good read but I wouldn't put it on the top of your list.

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